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From ski bum to housing boss: Julie Scott

Queenstown’s rapidly-increasing property prices, despite or even because of Covid, mean putting a roof over your head’s harder than ever. Battling that current is Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust boss Julie Scott who, while feeling that pressure, considers her job’s pretty hard to beat, she tells PHILIP CHANDLER

If you drew up a list of Queenstown’s most influential people, housing trust executive officer Julie Scott would be near the top.

Since joining the trust 14 years ago, she’s helped it house 225 Queenstown-Lakes households who couldn’t have afforded to live here, with the aim still of getting to 1000 by 2028.

She couldn’t be happier in the role, though it’s certainly not a sector she expected to be in.

Now 45, Scott grew up on a sheep and beef farm near Dunedin, and loved being a farm  girl.

‘‘I always thought I’d marry a farmer, but that didn’t pan out.’’

After schooling at Oamaru’s Waitaki Girls’ High, she did a zoology degree at Otago University, then a London-based OE for about three-and-a-half years.

That included two European ski seasons working as a ‘chalet girl’.

Back in New Zealand, she got a job guiding on the Routeburn Track, near Queenstown.

When winter came along, she took up ski patrolling with NZ Ski, which she then pursued for six successive seasons.

‘‘It’s probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had — get paid to ski around with your friends and go to accidents and avalanche control.’’

After three summers’ track guiding she had stints selling newspaper advertising, as Bidvest’s assistant produce manager, and in a front office role for Department of Conservation.

‘‘I could have left Queenstown and pursued career opportunities, but I just really loved it here — it’s the outdoors and just the energy the place gives off — and just kept hoping something would come up.’’

In 2007, while still up the mountain, the new housing trust approached a friend about  doing some casual work for it.

‘‘She was about to have her baby but she said, ‘I know some one who’s always keen on a bit of extra work’.’’

Before long Scott was offered a permanent job, and was its only employee for five years.

In the early days, the trust aimed to help out the likes of teachers, nurses and cops, ‘‘but
we’re now across the housing continuum’’.

It’s the envy of the country, she confirms, due to the council’s ‘inclusionary’ zoning,  whereby developers rezoning land for housing make a contribution.

‘‘To date we’ve received over $24 million in land and cash, which has enabled us to build up
to where we are now.’’

One of her and the trust’s biggest challenges was when it owed Inland Revenue $6.1m in
penalties, after the High Court found it didn’t qualify as a charity.

‘‘The Housing Minister at the time, Nick Smith, ended up taking $6.1m out of the housing
budget, then rewording the 2007 tax legislation.’’

Highlights, Scott says, have been launching the ‘Secure Home’ assisted ownership programme, and getting the Queenstown Toru apartments deal, at Remarkables Park, across the line, in which 50 units were bought in May.

‘‘It was a massive transaction, even though we weren’t the developer.

‘‘It was Covid and we were facing coming up with $26m, and there’s so many balls being juggled, but it all came together and support from the government played a huge part.’’

Scott says they’re also indebted to council support over the years and their committed trustees.

‘‘I do remember talking to [first trust chair] David Cole and just saying, ‘I think this [job] is my passion’.

‘‘There’s not many jobs, I think, particularly in this district, where you can have a really good, challenging job that still pays well and provides opportunity for growth.

‘‘But it is also so rewarding when you hand over the keys to someone’s first home, it’s  pretty hard to beat.’’

And no pressure, but there’s also the matter of 750 house holds on the trust’s waiting list.

‘‘It is pretty busy,’’ she concedes, which is why the trust’s now seeking a second full-timer.

Though she’s not skiing as much due to a dicky knee, she’s still pretty wistful when stuck at
work on a blue-bird day.

Lucky enough to have her own home courtesy of ‘the bank of mum and dad’, she has another highlight coming up in December, when she marries her partner, Chris.

And in case you’re wondering, he’s a painter, not a farmer.

scoop@scene.co.nz