Waiheke Island has long been a sought-after holiday destination, its population swelling from 9000 in the winter months to 45,000 in summer.

And it's not just Kiwis who've fallen for the charms of the Hauraki Gulf island. Increasing numbers of international visitors are heading there for some R and R during their trips to New Zealand.

That's great for the economy of the island, but not so good for locals looking for homes to rent. The huge demand for short-term holiday rentals has lead to a dearth of long-term properties to rent on Waiheke.

In many cases, landlords can make all the money they require to cover overheads during peak holiday times, and don't need to rent out their properties for the rest of the year. And now, because there are fewer long-term rentals available, some residents are having to leave the island.

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"We are suffering from the success of the visitor market," says islander Paul Carew. "We don't have a housing shortage problem, as much as a housing distribution problem. A lot of the owners of rental properties can make so much money just renting them out over the summer — people who get $600 a week in winter can make that amount a night in summer — that they can have them sitting empty for the rest of year. And yet people who live here permanently and support the visitor industry can't find anywhere to live. They don't earn enough to buy or to pay the higher rentals.

"We've got teachers and police officers and people who work in the hospitality industry who are having to leave because they can't afford to stay here. These people are the character of the island. Without them it won't function."

Other people have agreements with their landlords where they can stay in the home over winter, but have to move out between Labour weekend and Easter, to make way for holidaymakers.

"There are people who end up living in campervans and that is not ideal," says Carew.

Paul Carew. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Paul Carew. Photo / Ted Baghurst

In the meantime, there is a waiting list for emergency housing run by the Waiheke Hope Centre, part of the Living Waters church, with 70 people staying in the short-term accommodation it supplies over the last year.

The housing crisis had led concerned residents, including Carew, to start an initiative aimed at providing long-term, affordable rental accommodation for permanent residents.

They established the Waiheke Community Housing Trust two years ago. Funded by donations and personal loans totalling $400,000, the trust has bought land in Onetangi where it plans to build a four-bedroom house and two one-bedroom flats that will be
rented by locals who either have young children, are disabled or are over 55.

However, the trust has hit a snag getting finance to pay for the building work.

"We don't fit the bank's boxes because we are a trust, not a developer or a private family, so they are struggling with what box to put us in," says Carew, who is the trust chair.

"Once we have built the first place and have rents coming in, we will probably have no trouble getting funding for future places. But getting finance to start things off is a problem."

One way the trust is raising extra money towards getting long-term rental properties built is constructing "tiny houses" that people can put on their properties as a sleepout.

"These can be useful to many people on the island as a place to put guests. And if they are under 10sq m, you don't need building consent. We are building them to sell and hope to raise a few thousand dollars with each one, but in some cases they may also be able to help with the accommodation shortage we have."

Another initiative the trust is planning is to join forces with local real estate agents to collect donations towards funding rental accommodation.

"The real estate fraternity has reacted positively to the idea of having a donation to the trust for every sale made on the island. If we can get the agent, the vendor and the buyer to each put in $300 for every sale — and there are about 200 sales a year — that would be a significant amount of money."

The trust got the idea from the levies imposed in popular US holiday destinations such as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. "For every sale on those islands, there is money put into a fund for community development and it works well," Carew says.

He says it is encouraging to see how much support the trust is getting. "Everyone on the island knows this is an issue and is keen to support us. They regard helping us as an ethical investment."

Waiheke Island resident Anne Bailey is having to move because her landlord is selling up, and it is a struggle for her to find somewhere on the island. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Waiheke Island resident Anne Bailey is having to move because her landlord is selling up, and it is a struggle for her to find somewhere on the island. Photo / Ted Baghurst

One Waiheke islander who would benefit from rental housing provided by the trust is Anne Bailey. She found herself in a property bind after she used money from the sale of her home in the 1990s to fund a facilitating business that gave her great satisfaction but didn't make a profit.

Bailey hasn't been able to afford to buy again, and has spent years renting rooms in other people's houses. It was a huge relief when a friend offered the 73-year-old the opportunity to live in a tiny house on her Waiheke property and living there has been a delight. Unfortunately the friend is now selling and Bailey is struggling to find a year-round property she can afford to rent.

"I don't want to go back to renting a room in someone's house, and I don't want to leave the island. One of the properties the trust wants to build would be perfect for me. I love it here, so I really hope they can get these places built."