PHOTO: Queenstown. FILE
“As tourists flock to New Zealand’s adventure capital, an increasing number of Queenstown residents find themselves sleeping in cars and tents due to a severe shortage of available housing.
Currently, more than 1000 households in the district are awaiting housing support, pushing some individuals to take drastic measures, even if they hold regular jobs. This means enduring harsh winters in the cold and sweltering summers exposed to the elements.
On the shores of Lake Wakatipu, a solitary tent, hidden behind foliage, contains all of Paula Martin’s possessions. She described her situation at the Twelve Mile Delta campsite as “difficult,” lacking access to showers, with only a basic toilet, and water procurement requiring trips to town.
Martin, 50, works as a cleaner, with late shifts often extending into the early hours. Despite having a steady income, she struggles to find a safe and comfortable place to live.
“For eighteen months, I’ve been living in a tent. I’ve searched for housing, but my age and night work have made it incredibly challenging to secure a place,” Martin lamented.
She is not alone in her status as a permanent campsite resident, managing with a comfortable bed and extra layers of tent for insulation against the cold and heat. While winters are bearable, summers are a tough challenge, with the campsite becoming noisy and dusty.
“The sun rises at 6 am, and inside the tent, it gets unbearably hot, which makes it hard when you’re working nights. At the moment, I can only manage part-time work because of how I’m living,” Martin shared.
Despite her struggles, Martin remains hopeful that Queenstown, her home for the past 23 years, will eventually find a solution to the housing crunch. Hannah Sullivan, one of the founders of the Queenstown Housing Initiative, believes that action is urgently needed.
The initiative’s aim is to represent those described as “houseless,” distinct from being homeless, as they face unique challenges. Sullivan emphasized the limited facilities available at the camp, with no evening lighting and insufficient toilets given its size.
Sullivan expressed concerns about people sleeping in cars during cold winter nights and argued that the problem had been brewing for a decade. She stressed that people were working long hours in Queenstown and then had nowhere to go after their shifts, with their vehicles or tents becoming their makeshift homes, devoid of support.
While Sullivan currently has accommodation, she has previously struggled to find a place. Since starting the initiative, she has advocated for and assisted those without homes as much as possible, including a family of five who ended up living in a tent after their rental fell through.
Even those who secure rental accommodation, like Kingston Otene, describe the struggle. Otene shared, “Rent for a three-bedroom house is around $775 a week, and it’s just me, my partner, and my child. We struggled to find a home for a while, and it was only luck that a friend’s partner was a property manager, so we found one that way. Many people don’t want families with young children in their homes.”
There is also a shortage of Kāinga Ora houses in the region. Julie Scott, the chief executive of Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust, explained that people do not bother registering on the Kāinga Ora waiting list due to the limited availability. However, they do join the trust’s waiting lists, which include public housing, affordable rentals, and rent-to-buy schemes. Currently, there are 1048 households on these lists, a significant increase from the previous year.
Scott expressed confidence in a joint housing action plan for the next five years, involving government organizations, which could alleviate the town’s housing crisis. This plan was supported by the council earlier this year and outlines nine housing solutions, including support for the trust’s initiatives, public-private partnerships, and incentives for developers to offer affordable housing.
According to a previous report, the district needs around 3000 affordable homes. Scott noted that pre-Covid, there was significant housing stress, particularly in the rental market. However, the pandemic temporarily eased the situation, but now, with rents back to pre-Covid levels and reduced availability, people are resorting to living in tents and cars.
Scott also mentioned that tighter legislation for rental properties had unintended consequences, with some landlords selling their properties and others converting them into Airbnb rentals.”