Rotorua emergency housing motels advertise to Facebook users in other cities

Emergency accommodation in Rotorua has been advertised to outsiders on social media.

A document shared by RotoruaNZ with the Rotorua Lakes Council – intended to brief the government in March this year – shows examples of emergency accommodation motel ads on Facebook directly targeting residents of Tauranga and Whakatāne.

These advertisements in Tauranga and Whakatāne were live at the time the document was produced.

This has been an “occasional problem over the years”, according to the Department of Social Development, but motels that do this are urged to stop.

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It comes as a new report reveals some tourists are avoiding the city for safety reasons.

The RotoruaNZ paper, written by chief executive Andrew Wilson and director of research and information Justin Kimberley, said the emergency accommodation scheme facilitated by the Department of Social Development (MSD) had enabled accommodation providers to advertise directly to potential customers through channels such as Facebook Marketplace.

“This has resulted in a large number of motels in Rotorua (about 50-60) being either emergency accommodation only or mixed use,“says the document.

“As a city dependent on tourism – both international and domestic – we have suffered considerable reputational damage of that.

“The data also suggests that a large number of emergency housing recipients were previously not located in Rotorua“, says the document.

He said most of the data the paper relied on came from an official MSD information response and statistics on the Department of Housing and Urban Development website.

A spokeswoman for RotoruaNZ said the aim of the document was to highlight “the need for central government to provide targeted support programmes”.

"Bringing more people to Rotorua when there is no suitable accommodation is not helping anyone,” said Andrew Wilson, Chief Executive of RotoruaNZ.

ANDREW WARNER/ROTORUA DAILY POST/LDR

“Bringing more people to Rotorua when there is no suitable accommodation available is not helping anyone,” said RotoruaNZ chief executive Andrew Wilson.

Information obtained under the Official Information Act also reveals that in March this year RotoruaNZ Chief Executive Andrew Wilson met with MSD officials including Bay of Plenty Regional Commissioner Mike Bryant , at the RotoruaNZ office.

According to Wilson’s recollection of the meeting, motels advertising emergency accommodation on Facebook were brought up, along with data on the number of emergency accommodation customers from outside Rotorua.

Wilson’s recollection was that Bryant said he would follow up with advertising the properties on Facebook, but debated interpreting the data on outsiders.

Wilson informed Bryant that MSD data was not readily available at RotoruaNZ and required an official information request whenever they needed information.

A follow-up email from Bryant to Wilson said MSD had identified four motels that were advertising outside of Rotorua for long-term stays, and the department had “asked them to stop doing so and will follow with a letter”.

He asked Wilson to pass on any other examples from the practice.

Examples of emergency accommodation motel Facebook ads – directly targeting residents of Tauranga and Whakatāne – are in a document shared by RotoruaNZ with the Rotorua Lakes Board.

Unsplash

Examples of emergency accommodation motel Facebook ads – directly targeting residents of Tauranga and Whakatāne – are in a document shared by RotoruaNZ with the Rotorua Lakes Board.

Bryant said two surveys had “confirmed that the majority of people housed in emergency accommodation in Rotorua were from Rotorua”.

Another meeting in July, which included Wilson, representatives of Rotorua Lakes Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Te Pokapū, Visions of a Helping Hand, Lifewise, the then Lakes DHB and government agencies including MSD, took place at Four Canoes motel.

From Wilson’s recollections, he briefly summed up “the city takes [a] very big blow from an economic point of view given reputation issues resulting in fewer visits, which results in [fewer] jobs and subsequently making Rotorua a less attractive place to live and work”.

He also said the city was in a “perilous cycle” and it was becoming “more and more difficult to get out of it”.

“If we don’t manage properties properly, significant damage is done to the entire wellness spectrum.”

It was Wilson’s memory. Bryant suggested that the reputational issues resulted from “people talking badly about the city”.

In early 2022, four motels were discovered to be running ads on Facebook for emergency housing to people out of town, an email from Department of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said.

ANDREW WARNER/ROTORUA DAILY POST/LDR

In early 2022, four motels were discovered to be running ads on Facebook for emergency housing to people out of town, an email from Department of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said.

That same month, Bryant, speaking at a Rotorua Lakes Council meeting, said there were “people complaining about everything” and that MSD “didn’t really like working with negative people” .

The May before that meeting, it was revealed that a third of the 120 weekly calls in Rotorua were to emergency accommodation motels, according to a statement from a senior council official.

On Friday October 28, RotoruaNZ Managing Director Andrew Wilson said advertising for out-of-town MSD customers was problematic and would “only exacerbate the problems we face in housing d ’emergency”.

“Bringing more people to Rotorua when there is no suitable accommodation available doesn’t help anyone.”

Wilson said he understands the practice continues, but said ending the practice would not solve “the larger problem of managing the process of using motels for emergency housing.”

“Due to current processes, people will still be able to come from outside Rotorua and stay in motels whether or not they have a connection or support here.”

Wilson’s comments and recollections of the meetings were submitted to Bryant.

MSD is asking motels that advertise outside of their area to stop, Bryant said.  “A conversation is usually all it takes." (File photo).

Christel Yardley / Stuff

MSD is asking motels that advertise outside of their area to stop, Bryant said. “A conversation is usually all it takes.” (File photo).

In early November, Bryant told Local Democracy Reporting that as recently as November 1, MSD contacted a motel in Rotorua about a Facebook post advertising emergency housing to outsiders and “asked that they remind their staff not to do so”.

“When we know a motel in Rotorua is advertising emergency accommodation in out-of-town social media groups, we reach out and ask them to stop.”

Bryant said it was an “occasional issue over the years” that still occasionally occurs.

“Our impression is that it has diminished over time.

“We are in regular contact with emergency housing providers and value our relationship with them, so a conversation is usually enough.”

Bryant was asked if there were specific enforceable advertising rules for motels providing emergency housing and he replied that because the motels were privately owned and MSD did not have contracts with them, the problem was not covered.

“However, it is our policy to ask for a valid and clear reason before any emergency housing assistance is provided to people relocating from outside their area.

“It’s not fair if social media posts mislead people about this, and that’s generally understood by the vendors we choose to work with.”

A motel known for making ads targeting foreigners has been approached for comment.

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