Nine out of every 10 tenants in Queenstown fear unaffordable housing could stop them putting down roots here.
Trust is breaking the cycle
The Community Housing Trust can be the catalyst in breaking Queenstown’s cycle of unaffordability, its chairman believes.
“That’s absolutely our challenge,” David Cole says.
The trust, established in 2007 as a Queenstown Lakes District Council initiative, has helped 55 families into co-owned homes.
That will climb to 75 families by next April, Cole says.
Trust applicants must have citizenship or residency, have lived in Queenstown at least a year, not own other property and at least one household member must be in full-time local employment.
The trust is engaged with major developers in mediation led by a retired judge to resolve differences over a council plan change.
If mediation succeeds, developers granted approval to rezone land for residential subdivision will have to contribute cash or sections for affordable housing.
That’s the bottom line of the resort’s largest-ever survey of renters – 523 tenants took part.
Independent researcher Katherine Davies is “astonished” that 86 per cent ticked ‘Yes’ or ‘Possibly’ to her question: “Is housing affordability a barrier to your long-term commitment to Queenstown?”
Davies: “This is a significant finding which will undoubtedly have an impact on the sustainability of local communities, possibly denting Queenstown’s ability to grow economically due to a decreased likelihood of retaining residents.”
Her survey was sponsored by the council-backed Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust.
Trust chairman David Cole: “What this survey shows are the shifting sands upon which our local economy is built.”
The cycle of people coming to Queenstown then leaving because of unaffordable housing doesn’t make everyday headlines, he says.
“All that happens is that a family quietly packs up their things and leaves town.”
Yet Queenstown has to break the cycle of housing unaffordability, Cole believes.
Elsewhere in New Zealand, housing costs are about 35 per cent of gross household income.
In Queenstown they’re 40-45 per cent and sometimes more, he says.
Cole: “Why are they going to stay here? If we want to encourage people to put down their roots and become contributors to this community, then our housing has to be as affordable as other parts of the country.”
In her survey report, Davies records that Queenstown homebuyers faced a median house price of $445,000 in March – that’s 20 per cent higher than the nationwide median of $370,000.
Queenstown tenants too report unfavourable comparisons, with four out of every five comments from respondents saying renting in the Wakatipu is worse than elsewhere.
Common complaints are high rents, costly heating and fewer choices of properties.
Davies says 39 per cent of renter-respondents to her survey are “under housing stress” – most are in the 26-35 age group, earn below $50,000 a year, and have rented here for six to 12 months.
Her survey has a claimed margin of error of plus or minus four per cent.
‘All my money is spent on paying rent’
Waiting woes: Jodie Thompson and her three kids (from left) Savannah (10), Catlin (5) and Oliver Bowman (6)
"It’s very hard with three young kids, there’s not much room to budge when all my money is basically spent on rent."
Thompson is on the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust’s waiting list and has been told she may have to wait anywhere from two months to 12 years.
"It’s a bit heart-breaking."
Despite this Thompson – who’s lived in Queenstown for seven years – says the housing trust is a great stepping stone.
"I would probably have to keep renting for the rest of my life if it wasn’t for the housing trust."
Jodie Thompson never thought she’d be able to buy her own house in Queenstown.
Exorbitant housing costs in the Wakatipu mean the 36-year-old single mother of three spends most of her earnings paying for her rented Frankton house."I don’t have much choice – you just have to do it.
‘Tough to save but home dream comes true’
The Hill family has spent the last 24 months relocating their lives around rented houses too many times.
Looking ahead: From left Grayson (18 months), Kathryn, Lachlan (3) and Sinclair Hill
Next year they’ll finally have a brand new house to call their own thanks to the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust.
"If it wasn’t for the housing trust we’d be struggling for another couple of years until we were even in a position to try and start saving," stay-at-home mother of two Kathryn Hill says.
"We truly have security for our children now which we would never have in Queenstown."
Kathryn and her husband Sinclair moved from Auckland over five years ago. Since Kathryn fell pregnant Sinclair’s income at a local printing business has supported the family.
"It’s impossible to save money in Queenstown with the rents you are paying. By the time outgoings go out with a one-income family you are lucky if you are left with $40," Kathryn says.
Despite moving into a Fernhill house with cheaper rent to try and pay debt off, Kathryn says surprisingly the family is spending more money.
"We are spending more money on heat because it is so incredibly damp here. I don’t think my boys have ever been so sick.
"Even though we’re trying to save money with somewhere cheaper it’s evening out and maybe even costing us more," Kathryn says.
Despite loving the Queenstown lifestyle the Hills were beginning to look further afield for housing options.
"We managed to be so lucky to get a place with the trust. The fact we’re getting ourselves this new home that we never thought would happen is truly awesome."