The Taupō district has a severe shortage of public housing, affordable rentals and home-ownership opportunities for lower- and middle-income households, a new report has found.
The Taupō Housing Review and Recommendations Report by economic consultancy Berl was commissioned by economic development agency Enterprise Great Lake Taupō. The first phase of the report was completed last November and the second phase in March.
The first phase was a statistics-based assessment of housing conditions in the Taupō district and a series of discussions and a workshop with organisations and people with an interest in housing issues locally. That phase came up with a list of five recommendations and the second phase was to investigate each recommendation.
The five key findings that came out of phase one of the report were: That there were strong socio-economic contrasts within the Taupō district, with the southern part of the district "considerably more deprived" than the northern part.
The cost of developing land and building houses was a problem. There is a severe shortage of public housing for disadvantaged and vulnerable families and individuals (only 1.1 per cent of occupied dwellings in the district are public housing compared with 3.6 per cent nationally). There is also a severe shortage of affordable rentals and opportunities for lower- and middle-income families to get into home ownership.
Just under 23 per cent of the dwellings in the Taupō district are not permanently occupied, a proportion which has continued to creep up over time. There are an estimated 2000 very short-term rentals (such as Airbnb properties) in the district. These were seen as having an important but mostly negative impact on housing in the district, reducing the supply of homes for rent and displacing families from long-term rental housing.
Phase two of the housing report investigated potential ways Taupō district's housing issues could be addressed. Those ways included developing community housing for the most vulnerable groups, building affordable rentals for families on low incomes, helping families who could afford a mortgage or part of a mortgage but could not save enough for a deposit to buy their own home, supporting papakainga housing and supporting major employers to improve the supply of housing for their staff.
The Berl phase two report concluded there were no quick fixes or simple solutions to the Taupō district's housing issues. Its view was that it would be desirable to set up one or more community housing providers in the district which might be the best way of addressing the needs for community housing, affordable rentals and helping families into home ownership.
The advantage of using a community housing provider was that such providers can access the Government's Income Related Rent Subsidy Scheme, which councils are unable to do. There are several community housing providers operating elsewhere in New Zealand.
At a workshop to present the report's findings there was strong support for a community housing provider or several to make it more affordable to develop housing for the different groups in the community finding it difficult to access good quality and affordable housing, the report says.
"The general feeling was that the council should consider whether to encourage the development of a community housing provider and if so, how and in what form. However it was accepted that it was not solely up to the council to find solutions. The wider community also needed to accept that change was necessary; for example to permit higher density housing development in some locations."
Similarly, it was recognised that action on a number of fronts (such as encouraging the development of papakainga housing) was necessary because the problems were complex, the report added.
Enterprise Great Lake Taupō general manager Kylie Hawker-Green says EGLT identified housing constraints as a significant issue when developing its three-year strategy.
She says viable economies need adequate and available housing to suit all residents across the housing spectrum.
"In simplistic terms, in order for our businesses to grow and be successful, they need secure, reliable, stable staff. And those staff need to be in secure, long-term and appropriate residential accommodation," Kylie says.
"Anecdotally we had been hearing that people were struggling to secure long-term rental accommodation, and that purchase prices were becoming prohibitive for those on lower incomes. We had heard examples of employers struggling to recruit/attract staff from outside the district, as the new employees declined the job offer as they couldn't find somewhere suitable to live."
Kylie says the report was prepared before Covid-19 and so some of its findings may no longer reflect the current situation. However, some aspects remained, in particular the lack of state housing across the district, the limited numbers of entry-level or affordable homes across the district, and a lack of community and social housing provision.
Following the report, EGLT has raised housing challenges through the Regenerate Taupō District project engagement, and has also advocated for a community housing trust to be created.
The five key findings of the Berl Taupō Housing Review Report.
1. There are strong socio-economic contrasts within the district, reflected in housing conditions and affordability.
2. Land zoning is not a major issue but the cost of developing land and building houses on it is a problem.
3. There is a severe shortage in the district of public housing for disadvantaged and vulnerable families and people.
4. There is a severe shortage of affordable rentals and home-ownership opportunities for lower- and middle-income households
5. Airbnb has had a major effect on the rental market with some dire consequences for families who have lost homes they had been renting long term, however other factors might also be influencing rental supply.
The proportion of people living in rented accommodation has increased significantly between 2006 and 2019.
The number of houses in the district increased at the same rate as the number of households, but the proportion of holiday homes has crept up over time.
Average house prices rose by 23 per cent between 2006 and 2019. Median rents across the district rose by 88 per cent. In Turangi, rents increased almost four times as quickly as incomes between 2006 and 2019.
Rental affordability has decreased significantly, especially in the Turangi area.
Purchasing a home is unaffordable for many residents.
Disadvantaged groups find it difficult to find suitable and affordable rentals.
The appropriate quantity and type of housing is not being built. More small housing (1-2 bedrooms) for purchase, shared ownership or public ownership are needed.
Māori are particularly disadvantaged because banking systems do not recognise collective models of land title, making it hard for Māori groups to leverage their assets to develop housing.
Finding a rental: the struggle is real
The news that rentals are unaffordable and hard to find is unsurprising to Puruhi Peachey, the administrator of the Facebook page Taupō to Rent or Board, where people can both post accommodation and search for it.
He said many rental properties had been converted to Airbnbs in recent years causing a shortage in rentals. Since Covid-19 more former Airbnbs had become available to rent, although many were short-term rentals only.
"There's a lot more rentals out there from what I'm seeing but they are really highly priced."
Puruhi said the cost of renting in Taupō was high, especially compared with incomes. He has lived in Taupō for 20 years and said rents had risen to the point where they were becoming unaffordable. He rented a four-bedroom house for $400 "in the ghetto" and before that was paying $390 per week for "a three-bedroom, run-down dive".
"I was renting a house for two-and-a-half years and I made it a home, did heaps to it and the landlord came and had a look at it and said, 'I'm going to sell it now'.
"I struggled for three months to find a house. I was a solo dad working full time with one child and a perfect rental history. I would go to a viewing and there would be 20 people at it. It was really stressful and I had to settle for a house I didn't want to live in because that was all I could get."
Dannii Renee, who rents a home with her partner in Nukuhau, Taupō, says she applied for more than 30 houses and went to viewings where multiple people were also applying, before she was able to secure a rental.
She said rents were high and sometimes not in keeping with the quality of the house - one she looked at was more than $500 per week but had no insulation.
When she moved to Taupō she was a single mother with two children and said nobody would even look at renting to her. She eventually found a nice rental in Turangi for $280 per week which she liked, but moved back to Taupō last year where she says some landlords were asking "ridiculous" rents of up to $560 per week for houses of poor quality.
She's happy with the home she and her partner have found - for $460 a week it has three bedrooms, a big lounge and kitchen area, a garage and is fenced.