Accommodation an ‘absolute nightmare’

Frustrated Wanaka businesses and workers are calling for a final answer to the town’s decades-old annual winter accommodation crisis.

Hospitality worker Nicola Abbott is calling for national funding support for a high-density, apartment-style development for short-term workers.

Younger workers such as herself were considering moving because of the lack of housing, she said.

"[We] are being pushed out by homes sitting vacant for months listed on Airbnb for extortionate rates and hundreds applying for a singular listing where families are prioritised."

It was "absurd" several million tax dollars could be spent on the Auckland Harbour Bridge cycle lane when there was a national housing crisis, Ms Abbott said.

Dave Thorn had just set up a food company in Wanaka and was concerned his workers were struggling for somewhere to stay, and suggested considering Lake Hawea.

Wanaka hospitality worker Nicola Abbott wants winter workers’ accommodation issues to be sorted....
Wanaka hospitality worker Nicola Abbott wants winter workers’ accommodation issues to be sorted. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

"I’ve got a house here in Wanaka but I know one of our team members ... was really struggling to find anywhere to live. She ended up, I think, applying via a flat share with some friends ...

 

"I know she would have put in about 50 applications for whatever was available in Wanaka.

"I think they all came up short, ended up flat sharing," he said.

Mr Thorn’s business partner Dre Hart said finding a home in Queenstown had been "quite easy", whereas Wanaka was "an absolute nightmare".

"[There] would have been 40 to 50 listings available in Queenstown whereas in Wanaka there was just one ... I wouldn’t have been surprised if that had gone in just the first three or four minutes."

Cinema Paradiso operator and Queenstown Lakes deputy mayor Calum MacLeod sympathised.

Queenstown resident Dre Hart (left) and Wanaka colleague Dave Thorn. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
Queenstown resident Dre Hart (left) and Wanaka colleague Dave Thorn. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK

"About four years ago, we had a staff member who eventually found a flat but they were paying $160 per week for a bed in a six-bed room," he said.

He and his wife Andrea also could not find a house when they came to town in 1989.

They now provided staff housing in three flats.

"Andrea and I spent two months in a tent in Hawea Flat in May and June.

"We eventually found a place, which we had to move out of two weeks while the [house owner’s] family came down for a skiing holiday. It is a bit of recurring theme.

"I think this year it is slightly worse because we’ve got such an influx of tourists from Australia, putting pressure on the Airbnb network — if people can get $150 a night, why they would [only take] $150 a week?

Cinema Paradiso operator and Queenstown Lakes deputy mayor Calum MacLeod. Photo: ODT files
Cinema Paradiso operator and Queenstown Lakes deputy mayor Calum MacLeod. Photo: ODT files

"It is a shame. It is something we need to work towards a discussion with major employers and council to find a positive solution," Cr MacLeod said.

Wanaka businessman and developer Steve Schikker has co-owned sports shop Racer’s Edge for 34 years.

For most of that time he has provided staff accommodation.

"I think there have been quite a few businesses around town that have bought houses, which are a great investment anyway, but I am sure there are also workers who have had to let jobs go."

Recently, Mr Schikker got Environment Court consent to build an accommodation complex for 90 workers at Mt Iron.

However, the project cannot start until access and roundabout funding issues are sorted with the NZ Transport Agency.

Mr Schikker is calling on Wanaka councillors to help push the roading proposal through.

"It is frustrating ... When we were doing our plans, that [workers’ accommodation] was a whole of community concern. It is a shame that it has taken so long," Mr Schikker said.

Cr MacLeod said the council would participate in the conversation between the Mt Iron developer and agency.

Councillor Quentin Smith said he would help push for the Mt Iron roundabout to go into an agency work programme, using funds from the organisation’s long-term regional transport plan.

Wanaka’s seasonal rental accommodation issues had become "deeply entrenched" and in recent years, property owners had been making more in capital gains than in collected rent, Cr Smith said.

Changes to rental laws were designed to improve poor quality houses but had the unintended consequence of reducing stock, he said.

Home & Co accommodation agent Colleen Topping said a seasonal winter accommodation shortage was an "age-old problem" in Wanaka and she agreed with calls for locals to open their hearts and homes to winter workers.

The number of seasonal rental listings was commercially sensitive but had dropped a lot.

"We are down to one third of what we had in 2019. That’s a drop of two-thirds," she said.

The drop in listings had been triggered by new laws rolling fixed-term tenancies into ongoing periodic tenancies, and preventing landlords from requesting tenants to leave without a valid reason.

The landlord could take back a house for a minimum of 90 days for their own use, but most owners used a holiday home sporadically and it was not their only or permanent home.

"The main reason for not listing for the seasonal market is they don’t want to be caught out by not being able to get their house back."

- By Marjorie Cook

marjorie.cook@odt.co.nz

Comments

Several homes but 'don't want to be caught out', by letting the holiday home. Individual self-interest.

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