5 Dec 2017

Priced out of paradise

6:13 pm on 5 December 2017

A Waiheke Island church is having to turn people away from its emergency accommodation and soup kitchen - with rent and food out of reach for many.

With its vineyards and luxury homes, Waiheke Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf has become one of the world's top holiday destinations.

Rents are rising however, with a two-bedroom place costing upwards of $600 a week.

In summer, when the population swells from just under 10,000 to 40,000 people, that rises to $600 a night.

Miri retired to the island at 60 years old in 2015. She said her first landlord, who lived in the flat above her, had thrown her out in a drunken rage and gave her 24 hours to pack.

With nowhere to go, and little money, she pleaded with neighbours to take her in.

Eventually, Living Waters Church in Surfdale rented Miri a cabin for $200 a week including bills and shared facilities.

Miri has lived at Living Waters Church for 2 years.

Miri has lived at Living Waters Church for two years. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

It's small, and stifling on a hot day, but Miri is grateful to be there.

"They help me, I help them, we look after each other," she said.

The church's pastor Wiremu Te Taniwha set up the emergency housing on church land, and also started a soup kitchen. It feeds 50 people a week.

"People are struggling. People are sleeping in their cars," Mr Te Taniwha said.

Pastor Wiremu Te Taniwha of Living Waters Church.

Pastor Wiremu Te Taniwha of Living Waters Church. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

The church could only house up to eight people at a time - some staying a few days, others years - but Mr Te Taniwha said he often had to turn people away.

"We're working with families and noticing a lot more elderly people seeking support," he said.

"A lot of them have been here most of their lives, but it's just getting so hard for them to just survive."

People fear to apply for emergency housing - pastor

In a statement, The Ministry for Social Development said demand for emergency accommodation on the Island was low and there were no clients staying in housing of that nature.

Its deputy chief of housing Scott Gallacher said there were options available on the island.

"For instance, we would look to support a family into motel accommodation if no other supports were available to them at the time."

He said there were six applicants on the social housing register, and no one on the island was accessing emergency housing special needs grants support.

He said 27 grants were given this year up to the end of September.

However, the church's Mr Te Taniwha said the statistics did not show true need, because people feared they would have to leave the island if they applied for housing.

He said some staying at the church were being priced out of their homes, and others had been booted out to make way for the summer tourists.

"There are homes on the island that have been vacant for months and months," he said.

"If other people on the island who have land say 'I can do something', that will help."

Mr Te Taniwha said the community was changing, and the rest of the community needed to step up.

Waiheke Community Housing Trust is doing just that, aiming to build affordable community housing with a target of 100 homes in 10 years.

However, director Paul Carew said affordability, not housing supply, was the problem.

"A lot of the property on the island is being used for Airbnb and summer rentals."

Rentals are hard to come by from about October to May, he said, and it was a misconception that everyone on the island is rich.

Paul Carew, director of the Waiheke Community Housing.

Paul Carew, director of the Waiheke Community Housing. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

Teachers, business owners and police officers were struggling to stay.

"It will dislocate the culture extremely," he said.

Council 'doesn't have the mechanisms'

The Trust has bought a plot of land to build three affordable rentals, but after six bank visits each has told the Trust repayment must come down to 15 years instead of 25, with 8 percent interest and a 25 percent buffer.

Mr Carew said the trust could not build until they became less risk-averse, and he hoped the government would consider funding their project outside of the traditional funding streams.

Local Board member and third-generation islander Paul Walden said Waiheke had developed itself as tourist economy, but there needed to be a community response with central government support.

"The council doesn't have the mechanisms to deal with Waiheke's nuances of housing needs," he said.

"All of those issues need to be driven by legislative change."

He said a visitor tax or a transaction tax on real estate sales, as seen overseas, would help the community become self-sustainable.

"It's very difficult for people to grow up and live in this community unless they have freehold land or the ability to make a truckload of money."

"What we see is a revolving door of a population, which isn't particularly desirable."

He said funding the local trust or developing council land for social housing would be a start, but it would still take 30 years.

Another soup kitchen regular, Daniel, has found a place to live on a small yacht, but it's been a patchy 12-year ride getting there.

With rents increasing year after year, his options were limited.

A house truck on the church grounds.

A house truck on the church grounds. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

"There aren't a lot of places for us to go," he said.

"I have struggled over the period of time, living on beaches, in a tent and on people's couches," he said.

Daniel also spent time living at the church.

"If we didn't have them, there would be a lot more struggle, for a lot more people," he said.

"But I look at the positive part because of the beautiful beaches and beautiful people."

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