More than 30 council-owned cabins still vacant during rental housing crisis

With the rental housing crisis the worst it’s ever been, the majority of cabins on the Queenstown council-owned Lynch Block site are sitting empty because City Hall hasn’t invested the money to meet healthy home standards.

Council PR man Sam White confirms to Mountain Scene 32 of the 45 cabins on the site are not being used, news that infuriates Queenstown housing advocates who say council needs to get off its backside and pay the money to get the homes up to scratch.

Queenstown Housing Initiative co-founder Hannah Sullivan says it’s a “ridiculous, absolutely horrendous situation to have these homes just sitting there gathering more mould and damp when so many people are living in cars and tents in the middle of winter”.

‘‘Council knew about these houses just sitting there, but they’re not making any effort about this.

‘‘It’s incredibly sneaky, because we’ve been speaking to council for a long time about what they have available and they’ve never mentioned the situation with the cabins,” she says.

‘‘They laugh the problem off in their warm offices and say it’s nothing to do with them, when they are sitting on this information.

‘‘How can we trust they’re doing everything in their power to help?’’

Scene approached Queenstown mayor Glyn Lewers for comment, but he didn’t return calls yesterday.

White, though, says it would take a “significant investment” to bring the remaining cabins up to healthy homes standards.

Housing trust boss: ‘Time for talk’s over’

Last November, Scene reported council was upgrading some of the Lynch Block cabins, but didn’t have the money to bring them all up to standard — and, ultimately, the latter can’t be rented.

White says the people who are on periodic tenancies in the 13 occupied cabins have been assessed by the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust as having the ‘‘highest needs’’ of previous tenants across the Lynch and Cemetery blocks.

The average rental’s $217 a week, ranging from $100 to $290, he says.

But Sullivan alleges council doesn’t want to prioritise spending money to bring the others up to standard.

‘Horrencous situation’: Queenstown Housing Initiative co-founder Hannah Sullivan

She contends that’s because they’re tenanted by people who don’t have disposable income.

‘‘It’s a class divide.

‘‘These people have no money so they don’t matter to council.’’

Housing trust chief executive Julie Scott says in 21 years living here she has never witnessed such a lack of rental housing stock, and the time for talk is over.

“There is an extraordinary number of workers and residents homeless or living in sub-optimal conditions.

‘‘We would support council bringing the cabins up to healthy homes standards.”

Sullivan believes council’s risking Queenstown’s status as a tourist mecca if it neglects to help house the workers that are its lifeblood.

‘‘Queenstown will be really hit this winter with very unhappy workers and families that are struggling.

‘‘Do we have to wait until someone living in their car freezes to death?

‘‘This can’t be ignored any longer.

‘‘Council needs to focus on what they’re doing to fix this problem.”

Trust urges council to accept Lynch Block plan

Long-desired development: An artist impression showing what the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust has planned for the Lynch Block

Queenstown’s key housing charity says council must act now and accept its plan to deliver 150 apartments on the prime Lynch Block site, to help stem the housing crisis.

In a written and oral submission to Queenstown council’s draft annual plan late last month, Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust reiterated its intention to take control of the Lynch Block.

It wants to see through its long-standing plans to build rental accommodation to house hundreds of people in desperate need.

Housing trust boss Julie Scott says there’s a ‘‘truly serious housing need’’ in the resort, with people still sleeping in cars and tents as the mercury dips below zero.

‘‘And council has a key strategic site which, if transferred to our trust, would enable the delivery of 150 more high-density units for Tāhuna

The housing trust began discussions with council over development of the Lynch Block site in 2012 and has since remained “consistently steadfast” in its efforts to develop the site for housing, Scott says.

It’s even employed town planners and two architects to draw up masterplans to deliver apartments containing a combined 232 beds.

“Given many households would be couples, this could literally service hundreds of people and have a huge impact on reducing our waiting
list that is now well over 900 eligible households,” Scott says.

Council’s currently considering feedback on the draft annual plan.

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