$6.4 million paid in emergency grants to Taranaki accommodation providers

Pihms at Bell Block received approximately $2 million in emergency housing grants from the Department of Social Development between March 2020 and July 2022.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Pihms at Bell Block received approximately $2 million in emergency housing grants from the Department of Social Development between March 2020 and July 2022.

A Taranaki Hospitality has gained a $2 million economic lifeline from its decision to offer some of its rooms as emergency accommodation at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pacific International Hotel Management School, or Pihms, in Bell Block, New Plymouth, was among more than 200 providers across the country who took advantage of government grants to ease the homelessness crisis.

Figures from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), released under the Official Information Act, show around $6.4 million was paid to 16 hotels, motels and accommodation providers in Taranaki between March 2020 and July this year.

But while people were being helped when they needed it most, New Plymouth Labor MP Glen Bennet admitted motels were ‘not a long-term solution for people in vulnerable situations’.

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Pihms and its holding company were the highest paid vendors in the region.

Due to Covid-19 related border closures, international students could not travel to New Zealand, so Pihms had excess rooms available.

The other top earners were Amber Court Motel, on Leach St in New Plymouth, which fetched around $727,000; Braemar Motor Inn on Powderham St, which fetched $613,000 and BK’s Egmont Motor Lodge, on Coronation Ave, which brought in $467,000.

Amber Court Motel staff declined to comment on their emergency housing grant, which was $727,000.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Amber Court Motel staff declined to comment on their emergency housing grant, which was $727,000.

MSD data showed payments to the other 12 motels and hotels in the area ranged between $114,000 and $344,000.

Pihms and Amber Court Motel also received the most low-key grants, providing shelter for 267 and 243 people respectively.

The amounts spent at Taranaki pale in comparison to the MCentral apartments in Manukau, south Auckland, which brought in the most rooms for taxpayers when they received $15.8 million to house 621 customers.

Braemar Motor Inn, on Powderham St, no longer provides emergency accommodation, but had long-term tenants who are MSD customers.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Braemar Motor Inn, on Powderham St, no longer provides emergency accommodation, but had long-term tenants who are MSD customers.

Pihms chief executive Bill McCallum said the emergency housing grant money had been “financially helpful” and would help the school in years to come to deal with the “extreme hardship” presented by the immigration policies and the impact on the number of international students coming to New Zealand.

He said there had been challenges accommodating emergency housing clients alongside its student population, but MSD staff had been “excellent” to work with.

“Residents who have had to use our facilities have been respectful and courteous, given their situation.

BK's Egmont Motor Lodge on Coronation Ave in New Plymouth is one of 16 providers who have offered emergency accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

BK’s Egmont Motor Lodge on Coronation Ave in New Plymouth is one of 16 providers who have offered emergency accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Asked about emergency housing grants, BK’s Egmont Motor Lodge and Amber Court Motel declined to comment.

The manager of the Braemar Motor Inn said it no longer provided emergency housing, but there were about 10 long-term tenants living on the premises who were MSD customers.

MP Glen Bennett said the solution was to build “more homes that meet the needs of everyone in our community”.

He pledged to work with Kāinga Ora, councils, iwi and developers to ensure that there were “not only enough houses, but the right kind of houses for the makeup of our community”.

Labor's Glen Bennett is the MP for New Plymouth and says he is personally frustrated with the lack of progress on building new social housing in the town.  (File photo)

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Labor’s Glen Bennett is the MP for New Plymouth and says he is personally frustrated with the lack of progress on building new social housing in the town. (File photo)

The development of 45 social housing units on Leach St in New Plymouth, which is a project between Soho Group Limited and Kāinga Ora, was already underway, Bennett said.

Another “significant” build is also expected to be announced by Kāinga Ora in the coming months, he said. “That will help alleviate the challenges.”

Soho Group, in partnership with Kāinga Ora, plans to build a 45-unit social housing development on the corner of Leach and Cameron Sts in New Plymouth.  (file image)

Soho Group

Soho Group, in partnership with Kāinga Ora, plans to build a 45-unit social housing development on the corner of Leach and Cameron Sts in New Plymouth. (file image)

Bennett said he was “frustrated” with the situation, as one of the reasons he wanted to be an MP was to deal with housing issues.

“For me, it’s personal, and it’s hard to see how long it takes.”

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