Garage owners’ $1m staff digs plan

Housing proposal: Caltex owners Robyn and Richard Lee

Queenstown’s dire staff housing shortage is driving the owners of a petrol station to build digs above their carwash to keep business pumping.

Caltex owners Robyn and Richard Lee last week lodged a resource consent application to build two three-bedroom units and a four-bedroom unit at their service station straddling Gorge Road and Hallenstein Street.

The two-level building, cantilevered over the carwash, would cost $1.2 million to $1.5m to build, they estimate.

“We had to do something because we were looking down the barrel of possibly losing our staff, and that’s the last thing we want,” Robyn says.

“And we’re not attracting staff, and I don’t think it’s us, I think it’s the town.”

The Lees employ 10 staff, mostly Filipinos, some of whom have been with them seven or eight years.

“All our staff have had trouble finding suitable and affordable accommodation,” Robyn says.

Many, she adds, are squashed into digs with extended family.

“The majority are Filipino, and the reason for that is they’re just incredibly loyal and absolutely amazing workers.

“They really are just like our family – they keep our business going.

“When they have to renew their visas, we have to prove we can’t get a New Zealander to take their job and it’s easy because we don’t get any NZers applying.”

For the first time since they took over 24 years ago, the Lees say they are struggling to get staff, full stop.

“If we can’t get staff, we’ll have to reduce our hours,” Richard says.

Robyn says they directly attribute a lack of job appli-cations to the unavailability of rental properties, and the high rentals being charged.

“So we feel by offering accommodation with our jobs – 10 double rooms – we can at least help our staff to stay in the place they now call home.”

Richard says the staff units will be built to a high standard.

“I’m not going to skimp on anything, there’s no point.”

The couple confirm they’ll also be charging below-market rents.

They believe other employers will be forced to follow their lead.

“I would say they may have to ‘cos I don’t know what Queenstown’s going to do because there’s so many things being built,” Robyn says.

“So many staff are going to require accommodation.”

“And all the houses seem to be going to Airbnb,” Richard says.

Subject to resource consent, the Lees hope their apartments will be ready by next winter.