A $30 million-plus worker housing complex is proposed to combat Queenstown’s crippling short-term rental crunch.

A company headed by part-time Queenstowner Roy Thompson this week lodged a resource consent application for two six-storey buildings on Gorge Road, close to the CBD.

There’ll be 143 rental units, comprising studio and one-bedroom apartments.

The lack of affordable rental accommodation for low-wage workers, who keep the town’s tourism economy pumping, is a major issue during the current council election campaign.

Thompson’s company New Ground Capital – one of three entities behind Auckland’s 208-house Hobsonville Point development – has a contract to buy the former Carters building supplies site, subject to resource consent.

The site’s within the Gorge Rd ‘special housing area’, proposed by the council and approved by the government in June.

This status allows the fast-tracking of high-density, high-rise and, potentially, worker accommodation. Thompson hopes that the first building will be built by the end of next year, with the second finished by the winter of 2018.

His company is approaching employers to guarantee leases for their staff for up to 90 units.

“It gives employers security, particularly for recruiting new staff.”

He says he’s already had a very positive response.

“Some employers are quite desperate to get better security and just better quality [accommodation] as well, so that people aren’t all over-crowded into shared accommodation.”

Thompson says ideally employers would take on three-year “head” leases but there’s flexibility for shorter or longer terms.

His property management company would also directly rent units to individuals or couples.

Studio units will be up to 35 square metres – “a pretty generous-sized hotel room” – and the one-bed units will be about 40sq m.

All will have ensuites and most will have kitchenettes.

Thompson says Gorge Road Apartments will be expensive to develop because ground conditions are “very poor”.

There are also some major carparking requirements.

For those reasons, he says they’ll have to charge market rentals – “we don’t anticipate charging either a premium or a discount”.

However, his company is proposing a fixed utility charge covering Wi-Fi, water and power, “which we think will be much much lower than what most people are paying to heat pretty poorly-insulated homes”.

Another initiative is a shared car service. Thompson says there are likely to be two ‘shared’ cars onsite. Tenants who sign up can use the service at an hourly rate.

However he expects most tenants will be able to walk to work – there are also bus stops close by, he notes.

“Some employers we’re talking to are going to deliver buses directly to the accommodation to pick up staff who are working around the various tourist locations.”

The complex has been designed by Auckland firm Tall Wood and AW Architects, of Christchurch – Tall Wood specialises in tall timber buildings.

A former banker who chaired the establishment committee of Queenstown’s Remarkables Primary School, Thompson’s owned the local Pog Mahone’s bar since 1998.

“I’ve been an employer in town for about 18 years so I’m probably as aware as anybody of the longstanding but certainly increasingly challenged situation for employers and their staff in town.”

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce visited Queenstown last Friday.

He tells Mountain Scene it’s not the government’s role to provide worker housing.

“What’s important is that the major employers in the area are coming together and looking to make their own investment and basically bankrolling developers to come up with worker housing, and that’s what’s going to happen.”