2 Mar 2017

Wgtn students living in tents, caravans due to rental shortage

From Checkpoint, 5:25 pm on 2 March 2017

Record rental prices and dwindling stock in the capital are putting the squeeze on would-be tenants desperate to find a home.

Wellington houses

Record high rent prices in Wellington mean one student is considering commuting from Masterton or Palmerston North. Photo: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Jared Kelly / Flickr

More than 40 people queued up for one student flat in Wellington yesterday, while in January Trade Me had more than 100 enquiries for one flat.

The start of the university year exacerbated the problem, with some students living in tents or caravans.

Alexia moved to Wellington from Rotorua yesterday for her first year at Victoria University, which starts next week.

She had accommodation sorted, but a sudden change of circumstances meant she could not stump up the thousands of dollars needed for the student hall she signed up for.

She was on her cousin's couch, but said she felt like she was imposing.

"I've looked at a lot of flats and most of them aren't offering [to] people who are under 25, or students. Or they're $300 [per week] and a lot of them have more than 20 people interested in them.

"It's just really hard."

Record high prices in Wellington meant she was considering living as far afield as Masterton or two-and-a-half hours on the train to Palmerston North.

She had family there and it would probably cost the same as renting in the capital.

Rents in Wellington rose nearly 7 percent last year to a record $480 a week, according to Trade Me.

It said demand had overtaken supply, with the number of rental properties slumping by more than 70 percent.

Victoria University Students' Association president Rory Lenihan-Ikin said he knew of people sleeping on lounge floors and in caravans and tents.

He said expensive public transport was pushing people towards the central city - further boosting the prices of houses near the universities.

"Auckland has a discount for tertiary students on public transport, so does the Waikato. Palmerston North has free transport for students. Dunedin has subsidised public transport. Wellington is an anomaly in this sense.

"What it means is that students are really restricted in their ability to live in wider parts of the Wellington region and commute to study in the city."

Biomedical student Ruth Minturn, 19, said her flat broke the rules to afford the rent.

"I have a three bedroom house, which has a maximum of four tenants, but we have six tenants living in there to bring that cost down. We have two couples, myself, and I've got another person who's an exchange student from Brazil."

PM puts onus on council

Prime Minister Bill English said the rental squeeze was a concern for people looking for accommodation in the capital, but he believed the Wellington City Council understood the problem.

"Wellington hasn't experienced pressure on its housing market for quite a long time. And as long as they respond quickly, they'll be able to deal with it."

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said last month the council planned to build 750 new units of social and affordable housing in the next 10 years to avoid an Auckland-style housing crisis.

In Auckland, where Trade Me said median rents were at a peak of $520 per week by January, AUT student body president Urshula Ansell said some students were doing it tough.

"I know of an engineering student ... he's currently living in his mate's garage until he finds a place. And that's not uncommon. People are double-sharing or bunking up where they can."

Back in Wellington, Alexia, who was on her cousin's couch, had this plea:

"If anyone has spare rooms, honestly, there are so many people who are in my position who aren't even first years, like second, third, fourth years, people doing their masters. They just need somewhere to stay and [with a] spare room you [can] get money."