Behind the coolstore at Taylor Apples in Waiohiki, cabins sit empty in the middle of a Hawke's Bay housing crisis.

This picking season the apple company invested $250,000 on 15 extra cabins to house the 30 extra seasonal workers the company applied for only to hit a Government snag.

"Basically we got declined," Cameron Taylor, who runs the packhouse, says.

"We spent the money, we started, we put half of them on site and then when we were declined we stopped spending any more money and we just tucked the cabins round the back of the cool store."

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Taylor says he wants to be able to build accommodation for all the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers his company needs, meaning the seasonal workers are housed on-site rather than in the community.

He said this would then free up housing in the region for permanent residents like the 440 children sleeping in motels across the region this autumn.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst talks to Hawke's Bay reporter Laura Wiltshire in the Mayor's office Hastings District Council about Hastings housing hardship problems and what is being done about them.

Based on current growth at the company, Taylor says it will need at least 60 extra RSE workers next year, but he is unlikely to be able to get more cabins.

The extra cabins he has are not enough for the number of RSE workers he needs.

"So what do I do, do I go to Dad (managing director Kelvin Taylor ) and say hey I need $500,000 to go and build more purpose-built accommodation, on the hope?

"He'll go 'forget it'."

It means if he does get the extra RSE workers he needs, he'll have to house them in off-site residential houses, taking up housing when there are 600 people on the wait list for social housing in Napier and Hastings, and 880 currently housed in motels.

Some of the huts in storage. Photo / Warren Buckland
Some of the huts in storage. Photo / Warren Buckland

Taylor said he had permanent staff who were struggling to find accommodation, so understood the housing pressures people were experiencing.

While he had considered housing New Zealanders in the cabins, the set-up was purpose built for RSE workers, and he found New Zealanders struggled in the environment.

He said the best solution would be to have certainty around the number of RSE workers the company would get each year, allowing growers to invest in on-site housing.

Currently around 4000 seasonal workers come into Hastings each year. That number is expected to grow to 8000 by 2022. The number of workers is allocated on a year-by-year basis.

A SEASONAL WORKER'S VILLAGE IN AMONG HASTINGS' INDUSTRY?

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, speaking about housing issues facing the community. Photo / Warren Buckland
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, speaking about housing issues facing the community. Photo / Warren Buckland

Housing them is an issue close to the heart of Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst .

"We wouldn't be able to manage our horticulture industry without them, the issue is we also need to find homes for them."

She said there was an estimated 300 houses currently being used for RSE workers which could be returned to the housing stock for permanent accommodation for Hastings families.

"If we were able to get more seasonal workers living on-site, or in industrial zones within the district then that is going to support the industry."

It is the industrial area where Hastings District Council is trying to help.

Next week a paper will be presented to the strategy planning and partnerships committee proposing a plan change which would allow RSE worker accommodation in Omahu and Irongate, the industrial area of Hastings.

But building in the industrial zone doesn't get around the issue of growers needing certainty in RSE numbers to invest in housing.

"They need certainty, the orchardists need certainty if they are going to make an investment in accommodation, then they have to have a the certainty of a contract that is more than a one-year contract."

She said she would be meeting with the horticultural sector and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to discuss the importance of RSE certainty.

The government is planning a review of the RSE scheme later this year.

Lees-Galloway says growers recently had the opportunity to lay out their ideas for the RSE scheme.

He said he had laid down several challenges to growers, including providing accommodation for RSE workers.

"They are already really raising the bar, with training and community outreach that demonstrates pathways for locals as well as high quality accommodation that ensures RSE workers and their expertise comes back again and again."

THE BUSINESS THAT BOUGHT A HOTEL FOR ITS WORKERS

Drew Bibby in the common room at Angus Inn. Photo / Warren Buckland
Drew Bibby in the common room at Angus Inn. Photo / Warren Buckland

Labour contractors Thornhill Contracting recently purchased the Angus Inn Hotel to house 300 RSE workers, says project manager Drew Bibby .

"We were taking up multiple residential houses before, and with going into a facility like this we can get out of those residential houses."

He said while the facility was not purpose-built, it was more fit for purpose than housing workers in more traditional, flatting accommodation.

Having workers in the hotel allows the company to have more control around providing meals and laundry services.

Bedrooms at the Angus Inn house four workers, and each one has an en-suite. Photo / Warren Buckland
Bedrooms at the Angus Inn house four workers, and each one has an en-suite. Photo / Warren Buckland

As a result the company has seen a drop in RSE worker health issues this season.

"We're able to look after the guys a lot better."