Opinion

Rachel Smalley: Emergency housing is a band aid over a bullet wound

OPINION

You know how some issues keep you awake at night? Well this one is keeping me up. 

I can't get my head around the Government spending $881 million on housing Ministry of Social Development (MSD) tenants in motels since 2016. 

Just short of a billion dollars on budget and mid-range motels. No strategy, no plan, just throwing money at the problem to make it temporarily go away. 

One motel owner and his business partner invoiced over $60 million alone. Yes, that's right. They have accessed $60 million worth of government emergency housing grants for their motels. 

Not surprisingly, they were unavailable for comment on the story. I suspect they were probably out on the boat. 

But how bent out of shape have we become that we can't find a solution to this. That we're putting people up in motels. 

If you look at where we're falling short in this country. 

Health, for example, nurses are underpaid and hospitals are grossly under-resourced. 

Medicines, I talk about this often, we don't fund the meds for cancers, for cystic fibrosis, for spinal muscular atrophy in babies and the reason we're given by our prime minister is that "well, we can't fund everything".

Yet, it appears we can. $881 million on motels to house MSD tenants. 

The Anglesea Motel in Hamilton has earnt $16.2 million in grants between 2017 and 2022. 

That's good money. 

That is not the sort of revenue the motel would earn if it was purely relying on market revenue. and it's banked $16 million. 

This is what happens when you make political promises without understanding the drivers. 

Without understanding the layers of complexity that have led to homelessness.

Jacinda Ardern has always said that ending homelessness is a priority for her government. 

She has always said that, and in 2018, she promised to get the country's homeless population off the streets and into shelter in time for winter. 

Here we are, four years later, living with that so-called solution. 

The taxpayer has forked out $880 million to motel owners. 

The answer, as it always seems to be with this government, is to just throw money at people to provide a short-term measure. 

If you read more into this report, you'll see what a rort it has been. 

Over the years, MSD has paid private landlords to rent their properties – in private lettings, these properties would be rented for $1400 a month. 

When the government arrived with its cheque book, the landlords would ask for $2900 and get it. 

The rent would more than double. 

So as it sits now, we've funded 2500 motels to house msd tenants. That is a band-aid. That isn't a solution. 

The government knows, as we all know, that in order to support people to improve their situation, they need a home. They need stability. Their children need to go to the same school. They need to establish long-term friendships. They need a fixed address before they can get employment. They need all of these things if they're to ultimately come off welfare and determine their own future, and give their children a shot at doing the same. 

So we put them in motels. small motels. mums, dads and their kids. and that is how this government has addressed homelessness. 

I have long criticised this government for falling short in a number of areas, but at the crux of it all, this government consistently shows it has an inability to think. it has an inability to strategise, to find solutions to some of these systemic problems. 

The answer is always the same. Throw money at the problem to go away. Except this problem isn't going away. It's ballooning. $881 million dollars on motels in 18 months. That is nothing short of fiscally reckless. 

When will this stop? How long is it going to take people like you and me and ultimately our children to pay off some of the absurd debt this government is wracking up?