Home hopes for Wakatipu families

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Queenstowners struggling to save for a home deposit have a ray of hope this week. 

The Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust is trialling an innovative rental scheme which turns tenants into homeowners within five years. 

Probable selection for “Rent Saver” has already stopped young professionals Hayden Smith and Whitney Wanous from leaving the Wakatipu. 

“Before we became involved with the housing trust, we seriously considered going to the States,” Florida-born Wanous says. 

“We never really thought home ownership would be something we’d achieve in Queenstown.” 

Under Rent Saver, housing trust homes are let to approved locals at market rents. 

While renting, tenants also save for a deposit on a place of their own with the trust’s shared-ownership scheme – their savings are matched dollar-for-dollar up to $2500 a year for five years. 

Trust chairman David Cole: “If they save $50 a week, that’s $2500 a year – we’ll match that and over five years, they’ll then have $25,000 as a deposit to get into our shared-ownership programme.” 

Trust contributions aren’t in cash so tenants can’t do a runner with public money – they get credit vouchers to use as part-deposit on the shared-ownership home. 

Rent Saver fits the trust’s core objective of keeping valuable employees in the resort, Cole says. 

The new scheme targets households with lower gross income than shared-ownership – between $50,000 and $70,000 a year, he says. 

With only four properties in the Rent Saver pilot, Cole says all will probably be snapped up by people already in contact with the trust. 

However, with the Government putting $700,000 into the trial, he says they’ll be knocking on Housing Minister Phil Heatley’s door for rollout funding once the pilot is proven. 

Queenstown-designed Rent Saver is probably a first for New Zealand, Cole believes. 

Rent-subsidy and rent-to-buy schemes are common but the trust doesn’t favour those because they give away “community capital”, he says. 

“That’s not fair on the community because they’d be subsidising individual households.” 

Just four years old, the trust has 40 households in shared-ownership homes – another 22 houses come on stream by mid-2012 at its $10 million Lake Hayes Estate development. 

The trust is also locked in a court battle with the Charities Commission over its tax-free status – a verdict is awaited from a High Court hearing in March.