Sister cities share ideas for success

Queenstown's ongoing housing crisis and the recommendation of a visitor levy have been suggested by the City of Aspen’s Mayor Torre to Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Glyn Lewers.

Aspen and Queenstown, both resort towns, have many similarities and struggles, resulting in a sister city agreement that has lasted 32 years.

In a re-signing of the sister city agreement yesterday, Torre and Mr Lewers shared what they had learnt from each other, in a panel hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and Aspen Institute of New Zealand.

Conversation turned to the hot topic of short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs and the control Aspen has introduced to control them.

In Queenstown, it is widely believed that houses listed on Airbnb are taking away from the residential rental market, which is now in crisis state.

In Aspen, the city can implement criteria and monitor the number of short-term rental properties to the level deemed appropriate and stipulate criteria to make that happen.

Queenstown Mayor Glyn Lewers (left) shakes hands with sister city Aspen’s Mayor Torre. PHOTO:...
Queenstown Mayor Glyn Lewers (left) shakes hands with sister city Aspen’s Mayor Torre. PHOTO: RHYVA VAN ONSELEN
When people did not act in accordance with the criteria, their licence to operate was confiscated and they went to the bottom of a long waiting list to reapply. That could take three to four years.

In Aspen, a short-term rental is defined as any period that is less than 30 days.

Mr Lewers said he would like to see something similar implemented in Queenstown, while acknowledging property rights.

"Turning the dial over to have control over what can and cannot happen, as well as where, is something I’d be pretty happy with."

Discussing wider housing issues, Aspen had been in similar circumstances to Queenstown. Torre had even made improving housing the focus of his election campaign.

To get around housing issues in Aspen, a vast array of revenue-gathering taxes and levies had been introduced to contribute to the housing market, such as sales tax on housing transfers, and a short-term rental tax.

These had generated a secondary housing market for workers and community members, creating a gateway for them to get on the property ladder and also meant the Aspen City Council could complete its own builds.

When discussing building homes Torre said "we cannot do it on our own".

"Everyone participates in our housing efforts [through levies]."

Mr Lewers said: "When I saw the list of legislative levies that care for housing to raise revenue, I had a tinge of jealousy."

While the Aspen model would not be as effective in Queenstown, as Aspen had one of the highest densities of wealthy homeowners in the United States, the model generated billions of dollars for the city.

"Those sorts of secondary market-type ideas really caught my eye", Mr Lewers said.

"It is something we cannot actually do here, but it is interesting to see how they do it."

Acknowledging that the introduction of visitor levies and bed tax "could be a hard pill to swallow for some in New Zealand", Mr Lewers said he would continue to advocate for these.

"We should not be afraid of the word growth, not be afraid of the word profit and not being afraid of actually sharing", he said.

"The benefits would improve community welfare."

Torre acknowledged that while taxes and levies in Aspen were not popular with residents to start, it was clear now that they did in fact benefit residents.

- By Olivia Judd