Rotorua housing shortage: Council and iwi strategy touts thousands of new homes

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Thousands of new homes could be built in Rotorua as a result of a proposed new strategy for housing in the city.

Rotorua's Housing and Thriving Communities Strategic Framework document, "He papakāinga, he hāpori taurikura - te poupou rautaki: homes and thriving communities strategic framework".

Rotorua’s Housing and Thriving Communities Strategic Framework document, “He papakāinga, he hāpori taurikura – te poupou rautaki: homes and thriving communities strategic framework”. Photo: Felix Desmarais / LDR

The draft strategy, created by the Rotorua Lakes Council and Te Tatau o Te Arawa, sets out to stimulate and enable residential development, including emergency, social, and affordable housing.

Its unanimous approval to go out for public consultation was met with applause at a council committee meeting on Thursday.

Council strategy manager Jean-Paul Gaston told the meeting the strategy would mean land and infrastructure would be identified and established to “enable the development of up to 2000 homes”.

“That enablement in place will provide that opportunity for developers, or in revitalisation areas, to start to see the housing build rates that we require to start addressing the deficiencies we’ve got in our community.”

Gaston expected that would lead to a steady increase in residential building of between 250 and 500 houses a year, which he said would help address the future growth of the city as well as the shortfall it already faced.

At the end of 2019, the government estimated that shortfall to be between 1500 and 1750 homes.

Housing in Rotorua – by the numbers

  • 5 – Five times more homeless people are accessing emergency housing special needs grants (from 81 in 2016 to 498 in 2019), 83 – 89 percent are Māori
  • 12 – Twelve times more people waiting on the social housing register (from 30 in 2015 to 416 in 2019). 85 – 90 percent are Māori
  • 19 – Covid-19 is expected to increase unemployment, create uncertainty for housing and increase inequities, disproportionately affecting Te Arawa
  • 51 percent – the increase in rental prices from a median $248 per week in 2014 to $373 per week in 2019
  • 63 percent – the increase in house prices from a median of $263,000 in 2015 to $428,000 in 2019
  • 1017 – the number of dwellings built between 2013 and 2018
  • 1500 – 1750 – housing shortfall estimate in 2020
  • 6597 – population growth of Rotorua from 2013 to 2018
  • 9000 – Rotorua homes estimated to be poorly maintained in communities of need.
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– Source: Rotorua Lakes Council

Gaston said there were 65 new Kāinga Ora social housing builds under way or finished across the city with more than 100 more planned, and agreements with three iwi trusts to build about 40 transitional houses.

The council was also working on stormwater upgrades to enable residential development, as well as fast-tracking plan changes, such as Pukehangi, he said.

Gaston also expected that construction would benefit the local economy and create jobs.

‘It’s not just as simple as building houses’

One action in the strategy was to identify surplus motel stock that could be repurposed into one- or two-bedroom apartments.

It also said Kāinga Ora and Te Arawa would provide 75 additional temporary transitional housing units by June 2021, which would be in place for five years.

The council would identify its own parcels of land that could be sold or leased for housing.

Sustainability and social development manager Rosemary Viskovic told the meeting feedback that helped create the draft strategy found that housing was not just about “bricks and mortar”.

“It’s not just as simple as building houses to address the shortage, it’s much more around how people live.”

People had also said they did not want to see social housing “all in one community” but rather have it spread out, to avoid “creating a ghetto kind of effect”.

Viskovic’s report stated the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development’s Rotorua place-based assessment had been used to support the development of the strategic framework.

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It had also been informed by a series of “community engagements” by the council and Te Arawa in the last nine months.

An establishment leadership group made up representatives of Te Arawa, council and the Ministry oversaw work on the strategy.

Group member Hingatu Thompson said there was an opportunity “to create the Aotearoa that was supposed to be” through the council’s partnership with iwi on the strategy.

‘Brave’, ‘aspirational’ – mayor

Council chief executive Geoff Williams called the strategy an “absolute key milestone achievement”.

“This strategy framework is not just a lot of words on paper.”

He said it represented the ability to address issues of housing in Rotorua, and was a “road map to build communities”.

Housing lead councillor Tania Tapsell said while the strategy was “very exciting” it was “only the start”.

The Rotorua Lakes Council meeting on Thursday.

A Rotorua Lakes Council meeting. Photo: Felix Desmarais / LDR

“When it delivers I’ll have a lot more to say. We’ll definitely be dancing.”

Mayor Steve Chadwick says Rotorua has gone from a "district in decline" to one of growth and renewed confidence.

Mayor Steve Chadwick says Rotorua has gone from a “district in decline” to one of growth and renewed confidence. Photo: Supplied

Mayor Steve Chadwick said some people had not understood what the Ministry’s place-based assessment, announced in February, was.

“Having this strategic framework is what it looks like.”

She told council staff it was “brave putting targets in [the strategy]”.

“But kei te pai – it’s aspirational,” she said.

In response to questions from Chadwick, Gaston said geothermal heating was being considered for houses in some areas and a “wood-first” policy was part of conversations.

The strategy, titled “He papakāinga, he hāpori taurikura – te poupou rautaki: homes and thriving communities strategic framework” will be available for public feedback through a number of channels until 14 August.

Veros Property Services managing director Morgan Jones told the Rotorua Daily Post the strategy was a “good start” and there was “nothing to say we can’t deliver hundreds of houses a year”.

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Many other centres were developing similar strategies, particularly in response to Covid-19, but Rotorua was unique in that it had a lot of government buy-in, he said.

One person from a government agency had told him the housing response in Rotorua “could be and should be bigger than Ben Hur,” Jones said.

“They’re all at the table. There’s a significant opportunity in Rotorua.”

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