I was pondering how the cost of a haircut could rise from $20 to just under $40 in a couple of years when the conversation with my stylist
turned to the rental crisis.
She said in a week she would be homeless.
There was absolutely nothing on the horizon, and she hoped ‘‘they do something about it soon’’.
Suddenly I forgot about the cost of the haircut.
Next day, I read a Facebook post by someone asking if it’s OK to camp in the woods around Arrowtown, as long as they pack up and move each day before going to work.
In 22 years of living in this district, I’ve never come across so much stress and anxiety experienced by those who need a place to stay so they can work, and those who need workers but for whom they simply can’t offer an answer as to where they might live.
And yet, I write these thoughts looking out at large areas of land at Five Mile zoned for high-density housing — capable of providing places to live for many hundreds of people — but land that’s lying barren.
By comparison, a couple of kilometres away, $1.4 million sections are going like hot cakes and relentless court hearings focus on creating expensive lifestyle blocks just outside Arrowtown.
So, firstly, we need to ask why the well-designed high-density-zoned areas that would provide a significant volume of housing aren’t being developed?
Why isn’t ‘the market’ meeting this huge demand?
And, additionally, how can we encourage infill housing in Arrowtown that achieves the triple word score of preserving character, bringing more people into the village and reducing the relentless pressure for rural sprawl in the name of ‘housing affordability’?
Secondly, we need to consider in the short term what we can do to help.
How do ‘we’ become the ‘they’ that can do ‘‘something about it’’?
Addressing the latter question: how could empty sleep-outs, family cribs or spare rooms in empty nesters’ homes provide, even if only for a few weeks, a much-needed roof over someone’s head?
Even a tent pitched on the back lawn, or room for a tiny house in the paddock?
Could local community associations have a coordination role and facilitate the introductions?
Locals supporting locals.
Council could easily and immediately support and encourage potential ‘housing heroes’ to step up, give them the confidence to allow strangers to share their homes or their land, for the ‘greater good’, and reassure them they won’t be tied up in red tape, tenancy agreements or home improvement requirements.
It’s very different if you’re sharing the home you live in, rather than renting out the whole place.
I’m using my ‘empty nest’ room — in between returning fledglings — to provide a place for people to live while they make connections, go to viewings and build the relationships with letting agents needed to secure a rental.
Returning to the developer question, it seems despite the best endeavours of the sales agents, it’s not been possible to get enough buyers under contract at the $750-$800,000 level for ground to be broken on either a proposed apartment complex or two- to three-bed home
The landowners and developers don’t want to sit on bare land but, it seems, are struggling to bring ‘affordable’ options to fruition.
So are we focusing too much on trying to get people on the property ladder, when what we need is homes, not necessarily home-ownership?
Can we find an entity that will buy an entire complex off the plan and manage them as rentals, taking a very long-term investment view, passing over the developers’ premium and making use of every tax break possible to achieve a zero-sum outcome?
Council could fill that role, if you think they should be in the business of developing homes to meet a social need?
Or council could help make it happen with some very-targeted rating and development contribution policies?
Do we invest seriously big money in a new town hall, or in priming the pump for homes?
We can’t afford to do both.
Every little helps and right now we have a bunch of people who need all the help they can get.
John Glover’s the Glenorchy Community Association chair, works for Shaping Our Future and Headlight, and is standing in the upcoming Arrowtown-Kawarau ward by-election for Queenstown’s council