Friday, December 16, 2022

Mike Butler: Common sense on emergency motels

Two official responses to complaints from people in emergency motels shine a light on the issues and prompt common sense suggestions.

My day job is owning and managing rooms, flats, and houses, and I have done this for more than 30 years. I don’t do emergency housing because I don’t want the problems, the filth, and the damage.

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt spent months listening to complaints from aggrieved people who had been in emergency accommodation.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the Ministry responsible for the current housing shambles, created its own response.

The commissioner's report included stories of people who had been put into motels without cooking facilities, with holes and vomit and food on the walls, with cockroaches and mouldy curtains, no ventilation and no storage, broken locks that were not fixed despite repeated requests, and women being harassed for sex.

The report also included complaints from people who had been evicted.

What struck me about these complaints was that owners were being implicitly blamed for holes and vomit on walls, broken locks, and poor ventilation, when it was obvious that holes, vomit, breakages, and stuffiness all result from tenant behaviour.

And there was no mention of why people had been evicted.No one asked. No one said.

Hunt announced his solutions which were to:
1) Address the inconsistencies between the two different initiatives (emergency accommodation and transitional housing) and create a single, holistic system of emergency housing.
2) Phase out the use of uncontracted commercial accommodation suppliers receiving the Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant to deliver emergency accommodation as soon as possible.
3) Commit to adequately protecting the rights of those in the emergency housing system, either by amending the Residential Tenancies Act or by creating an alternative mechanism that is significantly stronger than the current draft Code of Practice for Transitional Housing.
4) Establish an effective, accessible, and constructive accountability mechanism for the housing system, including the emergency housing system.
5) Establish an independent advisory and advocacy group grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. (1)
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development said the way forward was to:
1. Implement a new assessment and referral pathway for emergency accommodation and support.
2. Update guidance for MSD frontline staff and others.
3. Provide better information to emergency housing special needs grant clients about their rights and obligations and what they can expect.
4. Develop a framework for poor behaviour while receiving an emergency housing special needs grant.
5. Set standards for emergency housing special needs grant suppliers.
6. Develop plans to increase the availability of suitable emergency housing alternatives to motels in Hamilton city and Wellington.
7. Invest in Maori initiatives to reduce demand or provide alternatives to emergency housing for Maori in areas with high levels of deprivation.
8. Design a new model of housing support services for clients across the emergency housing system.
9. Increase existing supports for emergency housing special needs grant clients.
10. Explore further cross-government prevention and support actions for the emergency housing system. (2)
Meanwhile, I wondered whether Corrections was placing offenders on home detention in emergency accommodation so I asked the Minister under the Official Information Act.

The request was refused but a response said: “To provide the information you requested would require substantial collation as it is not centrally collated”.

I take “substantial collation” as meaning “substantial number on home detention in emergency housing” unless specifically denied.

So, in light of what you now know, my common sense” recommendations to solve emergency accommodation woes are:
1. Don’t use emergency accommodation for those on bail, parole, or home detention.
2. Put women and children in buildings in a different location from single men.
3. Don’t put couples, or couples with children, or a woman with children, in a single room.
4. Require that each unit has a stove and that occupants have access to a washing machine.
5. Be clear that the units are not serviced and that occupants are responsible for cleaning.
6. Ensure that the basic right to quiet enjoyment is adhered to and enforced at all times.
Hunt’s report criticised the Government for exempting emergency accommodation from the Residential Tenancies Act.

However, this Act as designed by the current Government, makes it extremely difficult both to counter anti-social behaviour and to evict problem tenants.

The exemption is a further instance of this Government’s hypocrisy on housing – a punitive standard for private landlords and free reign for the Government.

Currently, for anti-social behaviour, an owner must issue a notice for any instance. A tenant may be anti-social twice in 90 days but not three times.

Three anti-social behaviour notices in 90 days may be sufficient for the Tenancy Tribunal to consider eviction but evidence of three instances of such behaviour does not necessarily mean eviction.

This is because the tribunal places the tenant’s interests, such as difficulty in finding another place to live, over the owner’s, such as enabling neighbours to enjoy peace and quiet.

Three notices in 90 days are not helpful while a tenant is threatening to kill a neighbour and the police say it is a tenancy matter because no one is willing to make a statement.

Hunt also wants to make it a principle never to evict anyone into homelessness. All well and good, but what are the rights of the victims and those harassed by the problem tenant or should they just suck it up?

So, if managers don’t mix villains with regular people, separate men from women and children, don’t put couples in a small room to fight, install a stove in every unit, be clear that the rooms are not serviced and that tenants should clean, live quietly, and respect neighbours, emergency housing could run more smoothly.

By the way, Woods argued that the problem was that "not enough houses have been built in the right places, for the right prices, and of the right types to meet people’s needs”.

But when you look at the issue another way, does the fact that "homeless people" were homed in up to 5520 places this year mean that there are currently sufficient buildings available to house everyone?

After all, motels work perfectly well as long-stay accommodation. We have two such buildings. That's what happens to motels after they have passed their use-by date.

There are wide variations in claims about the extent of homelessness in New Zealand. Hunt cited an Otago University study that asserts a total homeless figure of 102,000.

But an actual count in Auckland on September 17, 2018, found only 179 people sleeping rough and 157 living in cars, and a table on P15 of the 102,000 report shows that only 207 people throughout New Zealand were sleeping rough on census night in 2018.(3)

As for the racist component of the recommendations, what difference can Wood's Maori initiatives make? What does Hunt’s suggested advice and advocacy based on Te Tiriti mean considering there is nothing about housing in the treaty?

I would rate them 10 out of 10 for spin and political correctness but zero for engaging with the issues.


1. Homelessness and human rights,

2. Emergency housing in breach of human rights

3. Severe housing deprivation in Aotearoa New Zealand 2018,


Terry Morrissey said...

I feel sure that Tainui, Ngai Tahu and all the other iwi, hapu, tribes and whatever have more than enough spoils from treaty settlement, plus land that successive governments have give them from the taxpayer. Why can they not build their own houses to look after their own "people" on their own land.
Let them look after the gangs.They want apartheid. Try some. The maori elite harp on about looking after their own. Do it.

Anonymous said...

Paul Hunt, yet again, proves he's not worth listening to and his position should be disestablished forthwith.
As for you, Mike, I take my hat off to you for putting up with residential tenants for that period of time. But you have had the good sense to avoid the worst of them, although I'd be very surprised if you still couldn't tell more than a few shocking tenancy stories?
And as for Terry, too right! It's well past time they stepped up to the plate and looked after their own, but then taking responsibility is the underlying all pervasive issue and, of course, the first thing they'll ask for is - more resources. It is regrettable that we need so many ambulances when the issues all come back to a complete lack of a basic education and an inability to live anything like a civilised life, yet alone one that is productive - naturally discounting that innate ability to produce more of the same.