High hopes for housing task force

It is pleasing to see what appears to be an immediate, high-powered and inclusive response to the latest development in the local affordable housing crisis.

Last week, Central Otago Lakes became the least affordable region for housing in New Zealand. It is now 68% less affordable than the rest of the country, easily surpassing Auckland at 55%, and the median house price is almost 14 times the median annual wage. Within the region, Queenstown has the highest average value property at more than $1million - a figure it reached last year.

Central Otago Lakes has held this unenviable position before, of course. The region lost its barbed crown to Auckland in 2012. It is not one it ever should have taken back.

Yet in our neck of the woods, just like our biggest city, there are an increasing number of people living in cars, tents and garages, or crammed into houses in unsuitable living arrangements, because they cannot afford decent rental accommodation - let alone entertain the thought of owning their own home.

Some of the ''lucky'' homeless ones might now get put up in a motel, courtesy of the Government, which has resorted to buying and leasing motel rooms around the country to use as emergency housing. This as it also tries to sell off its social housing stock to private providers.

There is no housing crisis in New Zealand? Only ''pressure''? Yeah right!

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult has been in the job five months. In response to the latest news, he has set up a mayoral task force to tackle the issue of housing affordability in the area. It had its inaugural meeting on Monday.

The composition is impressive. As well as councillors, there are other locals and some high-profile out-of-towners. They come from backgrounds and sectors as wide-ranging as finance, law, construction, architecture, real estate, community housing and tourism.

There seems real determination to create a form of affordable housing model that co-exists with the existing private residential and commercial markets.

Of course, the same major hurdles that have stymied progress still exist.

Land availability is problematic, and even under the Government and council's Housing Accord, Special Housing Areas cannot keep pace with demand. The majority of land in the area is prime land, much of it deemed an outstanding natural landscape, so it is either expensive or unavailable.

Speculators or out-of-towners buying property for their retirement often snap up houses before residents can. The loss of traditional affordable rental accommodation to the more lucrative tourist Airbnb market is exacerbating the rental problem.

And every time a development is mooted, Nimbyism rears its ugly head. (Current home owners should feel comforted that, according to the mayor, the taskforce is ''unanimous'' in supporting ''a concept to deliver housing which would address the needs of moderate and low-income residents, including their families, without distorting or devaluing the existing market'' and should be doubly comforted too by the results of a survey, released last week, that show affordable housing does not negatively impact on the value of higher-end homes.)

What of plans for the Wakatipu High School site? It will be decommissioned at the end of the year before a new school opens near Remarkables Park in early 2018. There are some issues, but it does offer a logical central option for worker accommodation and affordable housing.

Mr Boult has business experience in spades and is clearly signalling he wants to get things done through this task force. Can he and its members succeed where others have failed? He simply must.

The situation is cut-throat. Survival of the fittest must transform into the survival of a community. If workers and young families cannot afford to live in the region, there is hardly a sustainable future for locals or the tourism industry.

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