"If you think Auckland's housing crisis is severe, you wait until you see how bad it is in Kerikeri!"
That was the message from Shirley Ayers, speaking on behalf of the Kerikeri/Mid North-based Kairos Connection Trust, which is doing something to ease the pressure on a increasing number of families.
From 1957 to the 1980s, she said the average house price in New Zealand was approximately three times the average annual household income. Currently the average salary in New Zealand was $52,000 per annum, while the median house price was $578,000, more than 10 times the average wage.
Currently, the average salary in Kerikeri was $46,255 per annum, while the median house price last year was $679,000, approximately 14.7 times the average wage.
"According to Stats NZ, who don't have the breakdown specifically for Kerikeri, the average weekly income for the Northland region is $773, or $40,196 per annum, making the median house price in Kerikeri approximately 16.8 times the average wage," Ms Ayers said. She knew first-hand the impact that was having.
She had worked with a woman in her 20s. Tertiary educated with several years' experience in full-time employment, her response when asked if she aspired to own her own home, was 'Are you kidding? I'm a Millennial — I'll never be able to afford my own home!'
It was no easier for those who were renting. Tenancy Services had no statistics for Kerikeri, but a recent survey of rental properties revealed that a one-bedroom home was commanding $265-$300 per week, two-bedroom $300-$485, three-bedroom $420-$550, and four-bedroom $575. And that was only if they were available.
"Collectively our four Kerikeri packhouses employ more than 1000 people, many of whom earn the minimum wage or not much more," Ms Ayers said.
"Very often horticultural work consists of simple repetitive tasks, making it easy to recruit low-skilled labour, but because the work is labour-intensive with low margins, this makes it difficult to reward long-term service with higher wages.
"Many of these 'working poor' live outside Kerikeri, and commute to work every day because they cannot find affordable rental accommodation in Kerikeri. And if you are part of the 'working poor' now, and can't find anywhere affordable in Kerikeri, where will you find somewhere to live in your retirement?"
According to the Northern Community Family Service based in Kerikeri, 40 per cent of clients were in the 'working poor' category — people who worked in Kerikeri or surrounds, but found it difficult to make ends meet. Many of them had had to move out of Kerikeri because they could simply no longer afford to pay the rent.
"This shows we are no exception to the 20 per cent of New Zealanders moving to 'Struggle Street,' as reported in Stuff in 2016," she said. "It's great to see many folks retiring and moving to Kerikeri because it is such a desirable place, but if we want to be a caring community, in line with the vision and goals of Our Kerikeri, we need to start looking out for our horticultural and service workers, and especially when they retire.
"I heard recently of one woman who had lived in Kerikeri most of her working life. She later had to move away from family to Kamo, because there were no affordable rentals available in Kerikeri. She is now separated from whānau, and displaced.
"And then there is retiree Peter Slawson, who, after many years living in Kerikeri, was forced to move to Kaikohe because he couldn't afford to buy again in Kerikeri. According to Vince Buxton, of Real Property Kerikeri, there are very few houses for sale in Kerikeri below $600,000. We can do better than this for our elderly.
"Twenty years ago I knew of solo parent families who were able to purchase their three-bedroom homes in central Kerikeri and pay them off over a long-term mortgage. There were also solo parent families renting in central Kerikeri, but those days are now long gone."