Just about everyone in Queenstown has heard a story about someone living in a car or in a tent, or someone quitting town entirely because they cannot afford to live here.
And, if they haven’t heard a story about someone else, there’s every chance they know how clever they have to be to live on even very good wages in an increasingly high-cost town.
Policy-makers have heard these stories, too, but it’s still difficult to gather the statistics needed to work out the true state of social wellbeing in Queenstown, the Salvation Army says.
Local Salvation Army lieutenant Andrew Wilson says the resort’s often lumped in with all of Central Otago or Otago, making drilling down into the numbers more difficult.
“Take the central issue of personal income, which here might be 10 to 20 per cent better than in other parts of New Zealand,” he tells Mountain Scene.
“That’ll look great if you don’t live in Queenstown; it looks like we’re milking it here, but what we need to investigate is what that actually means.
“What does it mean when you take out all the basic cost of living?
“What are you left with, what is the average personal disposable income, and what can you get for it?
“When you consider it costs as much to rent a one-bedroom flat here as a four- to five-bedroom house in other places, then I don’t think there is much left.”
The Salvation Army’s own work suggests a unique social profile for those needing help in the resort town, he says.
Nearly half the people it helped last year were neither pakeha nor Maori; they were new to NZ. They usually have no family or longstanding social links to the resort town and don’t know where to get support.
“We have incredibly high transiency, and that affects the social profile and cohesion.”
The local Salvation Army hosted the regional release of its annual State of the Nation Report at its Gorge Road base on Wednesday.
Report co-author Vincent Wijeysingha, of Auckland, says there’s a perception Queenstown’s doing better than most.
“Outside of the region, Queenstown is often seen as the golden egg, a wealthy part of the country.
“But also, we must understand how being part of that golden egg is impacting lower-wage earners, who are the backbone of the economy.
“The people who cook the food and clean the rooms at our hotels, for example, they often cannot afford to live in the town in which they work.”
Although more statistical work was needed, there was plenty of anecdotal evidence that affordability – especially for housing – was a key stressor.