The West Coast is continuing to transform into the land of opportunity - job numbers and salary growth are on the rise, while new homes are continuing to be consented at an increasing rate. But is a tight rental market the region’s Achilles heel?
It’s feared the West Coast’s rental market is the worst it’s ever been, despite a region-wide hunt for more skilled workers.
Business is continuing to grow with data from Stats NZ showing an increase of 240 jobs in the last year. Trade Me data further revealed the region had the highest salary growth in the country with the average salary increasing by 8.3 per cent.
Formerly The Blackball Hilton owner Cynthia Robins said there are people who can’t come to the region because there are no rentals, while locals are remaining in emergency housing.
”I’ve never seen it like this before - it’s the worst it’s ever been.”
Robins said not a week goes by where there aren’t people asking on social media if there are any rentals available.
Social media posts calling for rentals are regularly met with comments online including, “you’ll need plenty of luck to get a rental” or “rentals are like hen’s teeth these last few years, so many families in emergency housing and hotels”.
Robins is warning the situation will worsen in the coming summer.
”As rentals empty out and people can make better money on AirBnBs, I am fully expecting the AirBnB rental market to increase and they don’t have the same standards as rental accommodation.”
Rental shortages have been taking a toll across the country - with the crisis so bad in Queenstown people have been sleeping in cars and campgrounds.
Robins said the problem is no different on the West Coast - with people moving to stay in caravans or single rooms to ensure they get a job.
Property Brokers general manager David Faulkner highlights the West Coast is no different to other provinces they operate in, but it’s become an issue in the last two years.
“We want to be able to house as many people as we can and we’re really crying out for more rental properties ... that’s the case across the country.”
Faulkner said on average the West Coast’s rental properties run at about 99 per cent occupancy every month.
“We’ve got a substantial portfolio so it’s only really one or two properties that come available and they’re snapped up very, very quickly.”
Faulkner said it is likely to be an ongoing issue for the next two years - and it could be a matter that lies in the upcoming October elections.
“Whether we like it or not housing is political, it is a human right everyone should have access to a warm dry home.”
Meanwhile, it’s hoped Greymouth will catch the eye of housing developers, to loosen the rental market.
Grey District Mayor Tania Gibson said it is difficult as the town experiences a high need for skilled workers.
But she said there are housing developments in progress including Kainga Ora recently opening six of 12 new properties.
“What we definitely need here and there is a great need for it - is an investor to come in or somebody to invest in our own community in a retirement village ... that would free up housing in one sector to loosen the market on others,” she said.
Gibson adds statistics gathered by the West Coast Housing Forum - 70 per cent of residents want more development for older communities.
“There are things going on and our consents department can’t keep up some days due to demand,” she said.
The last two years have seen a building boom in the region with data from Stats NZ showing 225 new homes were consented in the year ending in May.
That is while five years prior - the number of new homes to be consented averaged 126 per year on the West Coast.
But Robins worries development is moving at too slow of a pace - and developments such as Kainga Ora is only a “drop in the bucket”.
National’s West Coast-based List MP Maureen Pugh agrees a retirement village could help ease pressure.
She said business and housing development going “hand in hand” - and they need to find a solution.
“If you’ve got new business that you want to encourage to happen in your region, and we’ve got a really big one up south of Reefton (Snowy River) ... they’re going to need up to 100 more employees on site.”
She said unless it is viable for people to build or own rental properties - they are going to have problems attracting workers into the area.
It comes at a time when the region has taken great strides to fill worker shortages - including a major international marketing campaign by Development West Coast called “Are you cut out for the Coast?”
Its chief executive Heath Milne said the region has been struggling with a housing shortage - but it’s great to see quality new builds under way.
He said there are a lot of great job opportunities across all industries in the region for those looking to “skip a few rungs on the career ladder.”
DWC economic development manager Jo Birnie highlights the Te Tai Poutini Housing Action Plan is under development.
“A lot of work has already taken place to address the housing shortage, however there is a real willingness across the region to work collaboratively to drive real and sustainable change across all areas of the housing continuum,” she said.
A housing wānanga last month was attended by more than 50 stakeholders from across the region - looking at the whole housing continuum.
The West Coast Housing Forum expects a draft Housing Action Plan by late September.
Georgia O’Connor-Harding is a Christchurch-based multi-media reporter. She joined Newstalk ZB in 2021, after several years working at multiple newspapers across the South Island, including the Greymouth Star.