Battle to find a place to live in coastal town

Riverton is a small coastal town about 35  minutes’ drive from Invercargill. It has a population...
Riverton is a small coastal town about 35 minutes’ drive from Invercargill. It has a population of about 1600 people. PHOTOS: MATTHEW ROSENBERG
A lack of rental accommodation has been blamed for limiting the growth of a coastal Southland town where holiday homes are king.

Oraka Aparima Community Board chair Michael Weusten believes Riverton is being held back by the issue, which is preventing young people from establishing themselves in the seaside township 35 minutes’ drive from Invercargill.

"There’s only one or two properties ever for rent out here — that’s why it’s such a killer," Mr Weusten said.

"If we’ve got any young people wanting jobs out here, they can’t find anywhere to live.

"And it’s like town rental prices: $400, $450, or dearer if they’re more upmarket houses."

Part of the problem was the high number of holiday homes in the area.

Mr Weusten said driving through the town at night during winter proved his point — the lights weren’t always on.

Michael Weusten
Michael Weusten
According to the most recent data from Stats NZ, in 2018 36% of private dwellings in Riverton were unoccupied.

But not everyone in the town shared his enthusiasm for boosting the population, Mr Weusten said.

"I’ve gone on record on Facebook saying we need more people in Riverton, but there’s a few locals that don’t agree with that, because they like to keep it the way it is for themselves.

"And it is idyllic, but by the same token, people like to see the cafes open all the time."

Mr Weusten has previously shared his concerns with the Southland District Council at a public meeting, saying young people couldn’t work locally because they couldn’t live locally.

T and T Property Management property manager Donna Leighton said she had noticed a significant downturn in Riverton rentals over winter.

It was much easier to fill places in the summer months, as evidenced by the difficulty she was having with a current property, she said.

Of the about 360 houses the Invercargill-based company managed, only five were in Riverton.

Properties in Invercargill filled quickly because of higher volume and job security, she said.

"With Riverton, it’s hard to know what the job prospects are out there."

Harcourts Invercargill manager Wayne Ellis said it was slim pickings in Southland for both rentals and houses for sale.

He believed part of the reason was a rise in demand, with an increase in the number of first-home buyers entering the market.

"Riverton’s just a small, rural township, so it’s probably heightened the challenge that they’ve got."

Mr Ellis said a quick look on Trade Me revealed fewer than 100 properties for rent in Invercargill compared with about half a dozen in Riverton. — LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.