A recent investigation by Stuff, coupled with information obtained through the Ministry of Social Development shows that a single motel which charges up to $1,500 per week per room has received over $3 million worth of Government funds to provide emergency assistance, despite never having a Code Compliance Certificate – an offence under the Building Act – and receiving a series of longstanding complaints from occupants regarding the sanitary and safety conditions of the premises. From the period of December 2016 to June 2018 the Government has handed out over $61.7 million worth of Emergency Housing Special Needs grants to motels without putting in place standards to ensure the Emergency Accommodation providers are providing a safe place for homeless people to stay.
Despite criticism from Labour and other parties when in opposition about using motels for emergency accommodation, the current Government has not introduced any measures to proactively ensure contracted motels meet basic criteria of safety for tenants. Auckland Action Against Poverty is calling on the Government to better monitor its contracted emergency accommodation providers and to stop declining low income people assistance for food and rent arrears to prevent many having to reach emergency accommodation motels in the first place.
“On one hand we have Work and Income case managers declining assistance for $100 worth of food grants or rent arrears, which would stop people going homeless—but paying moteliers up to $1,500 per for a one bedroom unit. The approach to providing assistance by Working and Income case managers to our most vulnerable comes with many inconsistencies and double standards”, says Ricardo Menendez March, Auckland Action Against Poverty Coordinator.
“It is not acceptable for the Prime Minister to claim that the only other alternative to sleeping in the streets is an unsafe, unsanitary motel, as a result of the investigation on Astro motel. It is well within the Government’s power to introduce more permanent and cost-effective solutions to our high levels of homelessness, rather than continuing this expensive and absolutely inadequate approach. Many of these solutions could be implemented in the short term and don’t rely upon increasing the state housing stock.
“Contracted motels are often unsafe, unsanitary, and create social tension by mixing people with complex needs into crammed spaces. A motel is not equipped to provide any social services or conditions our homeless community needs.
“We are calling on the Government to demand the Ministry of Social Development puts in place measures to proactively monitor the conditions of its contracted emergency accommodation providers. It should not take dozens of ignored complaints by people on the benefit and a journalistic investigation for the Government to act on exploitative moteliers.
“The Ministry of Social Development needs to ensure that people on the benefit are receiving their full benefit entitlements before they end up homeless. The people we work with at AAAP often end up in emergency accommodation units because of rent arrears from the high cost of private rentals or because they were pushed out of overcrowded Housing New Zealand homes. If Work and Income case managers were proactively doing all they could to provide assistance for people, many would not be finding themselves in this situation.
“The contracting of motels for emergency housing, first started by the previous National Government, has enabled moteliers to profit off a lack of state housing. As the social housing waiting list reaches 10,000, twice as large as when the Labour-led Government came into power, the Government is failing to reach its target of 1,000 extra state homes per year or address rental affordability issues.If the current Government does not ramp up the construction of state homes and address the culture at the Ministry of Social Development, they’ll simply continue enabling the same model they criticised when in opposition.