Rotorua residents oppose increasing emergency housing, say their town is used as a 'social experiment'

Business owners say emergency housing has hurt the Rotorua community.
Business owners say emergency housing has hurt the Rotorua community. Photo credit: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Rayssa Almeida for RNZ

Rotorua residents say the concession of more emergency housing contracts will take a toll on the community.

Between tears and emotional statements, residents, school boards and business owners spoke today on the last day of the hearing between the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Rotorua Council.

The submitters are against a plan to grant resource licenses to 13 motels in Rotorua to operate as emergency housing for the next five years.

Rotorua residents said the increase on emergency housing had brought violence and uncertainty, devaluating the town's tourism history.

Neil Searancke, who was born in Rotorua, told the hearing his town had been used as a tool in a social experiment.

"It's just a bad idea, it's just not working. So it just be stopped [sic], that's what we should do when things are not working. If we don't do something about this, our city will really die."

Carolyn Hall, who had lived her whole life in Rotorua, said emergency housing was creating a unsustainable industry in Rotorua.

"You will just set a precedent for other motels to do the same thing. It will just create an industry - you are not solving anything, you are just creating a bigger problem," she said.

In an emotional speech, Rotorua business owner Logan Shipgood told the commissioners how the increase in emergency housing has affected his art gallery.

Shipgood said emergency housing had hurt the community.

"I feel like it's almost just some kind of social experience that the government has forced upon us almost overnight, and now it has become Rotorua's problem.

"What's going to happen when the tourists come? Where are they going to stay if all our motels are taken over with the homeless?"

Johanna Meyer had been a GP in Rotorua for 10 years and told the hearing the increase in emergency housing has put even more pressure on the health system in the town.

"We have seen that the requests for enrolment have increased markedly. There have been some days that more than 50 percent of my patient load for the day would be new patients, which has its own range of challenges and stress source."

Hospitals were also overcrowded, Meyer said.

"People who live in Rotorua, who haven't got GPs, and that means they arrive at the hospital increasing the waiting times with issues that could have been dealt with in general practitioners.

"But because general practitioners are over capacity that makes it really hard."

The Rotorua Seventh-Day Adventist School Association also spoke at the hearing.

Over tears, board member Victoria Finch showed graphic images of 60 vandalism acts targeting their school since 2019.

Some examples included destruction of the school's playground during a break-in earlier this year and human faeces and drug paraphernalia thrown at the school's field, alongside verbal threats and obscene acts just a few metres away from the school's main gate.

Through a statement, the association asked for emergency housing not to be within 500 metres of schools as it presented an ongoing risk to tamariki.

Hall said Rotorua had had enough.

"We are saying no more, we don't want this anymore. We want our town back, we want our tourism back, we want our safe community back."

The commissioners' findings should be released by the end of November.