Efforts to address housing shortfall

Clutha District Council officials are working closely with Silver Fern Farms to expand...
Clutha District Council officials are working closely with Silver Fern Farms to expand accommodation options for the influx of seasonal workers at the company's Finegand freezing works near Balclutha this spring. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
Clutha District Council is taking steps to address an "urgent'' shortfall in accommodation for seasonal and other workers arriving in the district this spring.

Council chief executive Steve Hill told the Otago Daily Times yesterday there was a looming "crisis'' for worker accommodation and social housing in the district, brought on by a continuing reduction in housing and rental stock.

Although major regional employers such as Silver Fern Farms took on additional workers each spring, suitable accommodation to house that influx was now at an all-time low, necessitating urgent action.

"Since May when we became aware of the problem, we've been working closely with the region's major employers and other agencies to facilitate and progress solutions.

"Immediate solutions will require some form of workers' village based on container or other, easily-built, accommodation, along with refurbishment of historical and existing accommodation, in addition to whatever government agencies can... deliver for social housing solutions.''

Typically, Silver Fern Farms took on an additional 250-350 seasonal workers each October. The meat processor's cleaning contractor, Biogiene, also employed about 50 people in Clutha, and an additional 50 new workers were expected at dairy firm Danone this spring.

Despite the apparent issues, Silver Fern Farms affiliate Biogiene said it had not had difficulty accommodating its staff.

"We're certainly aware of the problems the district faces, but through a mix of word of mouth and co-operation, most of our employees have found accommodation in a relatively short time,'' chief operations officer Ben Hook said.

However, Mr Hill said the growing crisis had led to people seeking "non-ideal'' long-term accommodation such as hostel and motel rooms.

At a council long-term plan meeting in May, Silver Fern Farms Finegand (Balclutha) plant manager Silvio Tenci expressed concerns about the "adequacy'' of accommodation in South Otago.

In particular, there were concerns that some accommodation options left workers vulnerable to issues including overcrowding, inadequate insulation and family safety, he said.

At the time, Mr Tenci indicated a willingness to take a "partnership approach'' to the issue with the council and other agencies.

A Silver Fern Farms spokesman confirmed yesterday that "several options'' were still being worked on.

The company would not go into further detail until "concrete'' solutions had been decided upon, however.

Mr Hill said the council was working with Government on longer-term solutions for the district, and the broader picture remained positive.

"We're applying to KiwiBuild for more homeowner housing, and will be applying to the Provincial Growth Fund for more rental housing stock to be built.

"We've also provided land to house temporary accommodation, and are pleased to hear of plans to provide an additional five houses locally under recent public housing announcements.

"These are positive growing pains.''


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