Carmel Sepuloni has admitted some emergency housing the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has put people in has been so bad, she's told the agency to stop using it.
At the start of the year there were more than 8000 Kiwis living in motels due to a lack of affordable housing. Around half were children, 750 of whom had been living in temporary accommodation for more than six months. $1 million a day is currently being spent on emergency and transitional housing.
Green Party co-leader and Associate Housing Minister Marama Davidson earlier this week said some were living in "inhumane, undignified situations".
Photos sent into Newshub by a relative of one such person who was recently placed in a south Auckland motel showed rotting window frames, a mould-covered ceiling and filthy toilet facilities.
The Minister for Social Welfare stopped short of using the word "inhumane" when asked about it on Newshub Nation on Saturday. She told host Ryan Bridge she recently visited some facilities in Rotorua.
"Some are very good, some are of adequate standard. And there are a few that actually I said to MSD, 'stop using'. That can be done in a place like Rotorua where there are a number of motel accommodation options. In some parts of the country it is a lot harder because we don't have the multitude of options."
Some places MSD decided on its own to stop using, she said.
"When I went and looked at the ones that MSD said, 'Actually, we will stop using,' they were untidy from the outside, there certainly did look to be cleanliness issues... they were incredibly run down."
Many motel operators were "not responsive' when asked to clean up their accommodation, she said.
"From what I see, the vast majority are in appropriate and safe conditions. There may be some, and if they're feeling unsafe they do need to let MSD know so we can move them.
Bridge told Sepuloni about a mother who spoke to RNZ about having to live in a motel with her four kids surrounded by drug addicts, alcoholics and ex-prisoners.
"I think that is totally unsuitable. Totally unsuitable. That is not appropriate," said Sepuloni, adding that the Government is looking into the possibility of having dedicated emergency accommodation for women and children, away from violent men.
But some families offered alternative places to stay turned it down, she said.
"What I've been told by frontline staff is that sometimes too, families are told 'this might be a better option for you' but for whatever reason they want to go to particular accommodation because perhaps it's closer to their kids' school, perhaps it's closer to their workplace, for those that are working.
"So in some instances it's not MSD that's deciding where they need to go - it's actually the families or the individuals deciding what they deem to be most appropriate or convenient for them in terms of location."
She said many in emergency housing are dealing with mental health and addiction, and with a lack of alternatives, MSD had little choice but to use motels - even if they're not exactly five-star hotels.
"We have to reflect back and think about what got us here. It is the lack of investment in housing over generations that's led to a lack of supply and a situation where we have families who do not have homes to go to."
She said MSD would not go back to using private rentals because "drove up the cost of private rentals. It took private rentals off the market for families in general. That's not the track that we want to go down."
Asked how long it could be before motels stop being used for the homeless, Sepuloni said she hoped to make good progress before 2023.
"I wish it was going to be tomorrow, but that's not the case. I can't put a date on it... the more we can build, the faster we can build, the more quickly we can get on top of this issue."