Housing impacting businesses: survey

The drive to Te Anau offers a number of scenic stops and photo opportunities. PHOTOS: GETTY...
Te Anau accommodation owner Nathan Benfell had Christmas Day off. His next day off is the opening of the duck-shooting season — the first weekend in May.

After that, who knows?

But what he does know is he is short of workers.

Well, not short of workers — short of places for workers to live.

Mr Benfell said he recently advertised a job at his accommodation business, Shakespeare House B&B.

He got 40 odd replies — many of them well qualified. But many had nowhere to live, so could not be employed.

The issue of workers having nowhere to stay in Te Anau is not going away and a recent survey by the Fiordland Business Association has laid bare the lack of beds for people wanting to work in the town.

Nathan Benfell
Nathan Benfell
The survey garnered responses from 71 local businesses in November, and the outcome revealed 56% of participants identified housing as a significant problem impacting their business operations.

More than half reported being understaffed by between one to five people because of the scarcity of housing options in Te Anau.

"We knew it was bad but this result has made it a bit worse, a bit more real, than we thought it was," Mr Benfell, who is chairman of the association, said.

More than 50% of businesses reported difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees because of the housing shortage.

"We have got a girl starting next week who does not know where she is going to live.

"She has a van she can travel in where she could stay but you can only live in that temporarily.

"You can end up having workers living with you, which is not ideal for either party.

"There is plenty of housing around — but it is not being used for what we need it for.

"We have been here seven years and a lot of housing has been built in the town in that time but nothing has changed. It is still a struggle to get places for workers to stay."

He counted about 200 Airbnb houses in Te Anau, many of which had appeared in the past few years.

It was not just hospitality workers who were lacking.

Jobs such as teachers, dentists and farm workers were on offer but could not be filled as successful applicants had nowhere to live, he said.

Suggestions were coming in to try to find a solution and a local trust had offered some land in the town where some cabins could be constructed.

Businesses may also look at buying houses for worker accommodation, or tiny houses.

Mr Benfell might have to give up a unit in his hotel and lose income to get somewhere for his staff to live.

"That may be just one unit but it all adds up. If each of us have to do that then that is a big loss to the economy."

It had been a good season for the tourism industry in Te Anau with tourists returning, and it was good to be busy after a very quiet time during the pandemic.

He called on local and central government to help.

"Something has to be done.

"We are already taking bookings for next year and we are going to have the same problems."