Seasonal staff in southern tourist towns struggling to find accommodation

Seasonal staff in our southern tourist towns are gearing up for the beginning of the winter season, but it's finding a place to stay that's become dire.

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There's now a desperate push for solutions on the eve of the ski season. Source: 1 NEWS

Rental accommodation in Wānaka is so bad, one seasonal worker has ended up sleeping in their car because they were unable to find a bed anywhere else.

Kiwis Alice Pallister and Jordyn Partridge moved south to work on the slopes but putting a roof over their heads for the season is near impossible.

“Everybody is looking and it's so competitive,” Pallister said.

“You're on the Facebook pages, scrolling and scrolling, and as soon as a place goes up, 20 or 30 comments are bombarded on the post, so it's kind of demoralising,” said Partridge.

Partridge is at a backpackers but will have to move out soon as it's fully booked for winter tourists.

Pallister is at a hostel most days but has slept in her car as a last resort.

“I have a really good sleeping bag so I would have that and a pillow,” said Pallister.

“For the first couple of hours it's fine, but when you wake up and it's freezing cold in the morning, it's not that fun.”

Wānaka relies heavily on seasonal workers, but short-term living has always been a chronic problem.

“It's pretty dire if you are a tenant... we only have one long term property to rent and zero seasonal rentals available,” said local property manager Colleen Topping.

A recent survey of the housing stock in the town shows the number of available rentals is down two-thirds compared at this time in 2019, which is adding pressure to the market.

Holiday homes make up 40 per cent of accommodation in the town.

They have traditionally been an option for seasonal workers, but landlords are increasingly reluctant to offer them up due to changes to tenancy laws.

“They [landlords] are just nervous that they won't get that property back at the end of the fixed term tenancy... the tenant will exercise their right to stay on at the property,” said Topping.

The government is not considering any exemption for holiday homes at this stage.

But there are also calls for ski field operators to house their seasonal employees.

Laura Hedley from Cardrona Alpine Resort said the company has “looked into [worker accommodation] before… but I think there is a real opportunity to create worker accommodation”.

“The key would be that it would be utilised year-round.”

In the meantime, local resident Carmen Blackler is developing a quick fix.

She has recently launched ‘The Workforce Accommodation Network [The WAN] website linking workers with locals willing to share their house for the season.

“We have a need right now” said Carmen Blackler.

“A lot of people would say we need to build more, but that takes time… we have 7000 homes in Wānaka, granted some of them are holiday homes, but if someone's got a spare room, then if they can offer that to a ski worker then that helps solve the problem that we've got right now.”

She hopes it can be a long-term solution for town’s reliant on seasonal and flexible workers.

“These people come in and they share their skills with us so that we can have the winter that you know we know and love.”

“We just think that we need to look at it differently... and come up with new ways to help address the issue and the community always gathers in a time of crisis. So, what we're asking is that the community actually takes that sense and does it routinely.”

Blackler hopes that community spirit gives workers like Pallister and Partridge a place to call home this winter.

If you have a spare room or sleepout available for seasonal workers this winter, you can register at The WAN.