Housing crisis

The ugly problem that is our housing crisis

A story for TVNZ on Sunday about the use of motels in Rotorua as emergency accommodation sets off a political blame game and highlights the vulnerability of those who just want a place to live, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin

Shine departed from the Golden Mile

I slammed my laptop after watching Golden Mile, Kristin Hall’s talk on using motels in Rotorua as emergency housing and made a noise that prompted a colleague to ask if I was going good. “It’s so sinister,” I said. Grim but important work that I watched and came home to my house and its heat pump. In 2018, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the United Nations and spoke of dealing with “tricky issues”. Wicked problems are those that do not have a simple solution due to complexity or interdependence, and where solving one aspect of the problem can create other problems. At the end of 2018, 10,712 households were waiting for state or social housing. In August, 27,036 households are now on the social housing waiting list. Housing is one of the most difficult issues facing New Zealand and Hall’s story is a case in point.

enjoying the misery

If you haven’t watched Golden Mile yet, do so. Duncan Greive recounted his experience watching it, reminding us of the power of television news programs to drive the news agenda. Hall’s story details allegations of gang members working for the private security company working at the motels. The business is now under investigation and led by the CEO of the charity Visions of a Helping Hand, an emergency housing provider in the area and at the center of Hall’s story. He was paid nearly $14 million by government departments to provide emergency housing. He operates two motels in Rotorua and is contracted to look after eight others. By the end of June this year, the government had spent $1 billion on emergency housing. Only 83 suppliers (out of 1540) accounted for half of this expenditure. Ultimately, there is an underlying sense that there is profit to be made from the misery of others and by offering piecemeal solutions to thorny problems.

Te Pāti Māori and National call for investigation

History launched a political blame game. The government argues that this is not an ideal situation, but motels are better than a car or a garage. This is not an incorrect point, but the tenants featured in Hall’s story actually moved into their cars to avoid being bullied and harassed by security guards. The Ministry of Housing and Town Planning says it is “satisfied” that Visions of a Helping Hand is honoring its contract. Te Pāti Māori called for an investigation and National joined them in that call. Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon says the government is in denial and needs to bring in community housing providers to increase housing supply. The government said it faced a housing shortage in the state when it took power in 2017, while Luxon says National is not to blame. The Human Rights Commission is horrified and wants to speak to those living in Rotorua motels.

40 kilometers away, workers have been without pay for weeks

Not far from Rotorua is Kawerau, where workers at the Essity paper mill were locked out a month ago and are currently negotiating with the multi-billion dollar company for a pay rise to help keep up with inflation. The specter of poverty and emergency housing also looms there, with the region becoming something of a microcosm for our thorny issues. Stewart Sowman-Lund visited the town to find the mill quiet, the gates locked. A woman he spoke to said she had friends who worked at the mill. “It’s sad,” she said, taking off her sunglasses. “I think they had to look for emergency accommodation.” Sowman-Lund will report on the Rotorua mayoral candidate debate tomorrow where emergency housing was discussed.