Social impacts of boomtown

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Queenstown’s population boom has an obvious effect on house prices and the rental market – but what’s the knock-on cost to people’s quality of life?

It’s a question Southern District Health Board is asking in a study to get a handle on housing issues and the snowball effect on people’s wellbeing, not only for those in Queenstown, but other Central Otago towns.

SDHB is engaging with households in an online survey, asking them about their living conditions, whether they’ve had to move in the last two years and why, and various other questions.

Staff have also been doing one-on-one interviews with social services, schools, police and other government organisations to find out what they’re seeing first-hand.

Medical officer of health Dr Marion Poore says preliminary findings confirm the obvious – there is a major housing shortage – but also people are being forced to move to out of Queenstown.

Subsequently, growth is being felt in Cromwell and other Central Otago towns, such as Omakau and Ranfurly, yet many people still work in Queenstown and Wanaka, leaving them with no option but to commute.

This results in long travel times, more congestion and house prices going up in smaller towns due to supply and demand, she says.

“People are being displaced to other parts of the district as they try to find something they can afford.

“Longer time in the car means less time with families, less time to contribute to community and social activities … Those social functions are an important part of our lives.” In the health sector, the impact is felt hardest by mental health services because more and more people are accessing services due to anxiety and distress caused by housing and transport issues.

SDHB will release a report on the findings in July, Poore says, which will help guide the type of health services the district needs to plan for, and inform other organisations.

“Currently, mental health services are focused on people with serious mental illness, but people who are anxious or stressed in response to a set of circumstances are not seriously ill and need a different type of service.

“We need to support people to live well, not just to be healthy, but to feel good.”

This can be a challenging task, Poore says, because it involves effective urban planning and transport systems less reliant on cars, among other things.

miranda.cook@scene.co.nz