Businesses backing Te Anau workers village amidst rental squeeze

by Kim Bowden - May 01, 2024

Down in Te Anau, the local business association is spearheading an ambitious plan to provide workers accommodation to combat a housing shortage.

The set of circumstances will feel familiar for Southern Lakes' dwellers - businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and tourism game, need staff, but there are just not enough places for those staff to live. 

In April, the Fiordland Business Association pitched its idea to its members, and now it is crunch time as the group starts looking at the finer details to see if its grand idea has legs.

Genuis Homes reckons it can help Te Anau businesses provide a much-needed home for workers (Image: Facebook/Fiordland Business Association).

After a chance encounter at the Waimumu agricultural show, prefabricated housing builder Genuis Homes, which has its head office and factory in Timaru, has teamed up with the organisation to nut out a concept plan.

The proposal is for up to 30 one, two or three-bedroom dwellings to be located on Alpine Drive, not far off State Highway 94 that links Te Anau to Mossburn and a short distance from the centre of town.

A trust has offered up the land, with a fixed-term tenure.

Fiordland Business Association chairman Nathan Benfell says the business community has been talking "for years" about the lack of accommodation for workers, and late last year they conducted a survey to quantify the problem rather than falling back on anecdotal evidence of it.

"It was worse than what we thought," he says.

More than half of those surveyed said they had one to five vacancies they could not fill due to the rental squeeze.

"So, then, we sort of kicked into brainstorming ideas."

The group did not have to look far for inspiration for a workers village.

Mr Benfell says during the construction of the power station (at Manapōuri) similar set-ups "appeared out of nowhere".

Fast forward several decades, and the biggest early hurdle for a similar plan is land, or the cost of it, and here the organisation has been lucky.

The idea of a workers village was featured in a local media report.

"The next morning, by 10 o'clock, I had a phone call from a trustee of a charitable trust saying, 'Hey, we need to talk'," Mr Benfell says.

"It was very exciting."

The association is now looking to move the plan forwards with support from its members, and if it is all go November 2025 is the goal for workers to be moving in, although when that date was flagged Mr Benfell says, "We had no idea even if that was possible".

The coming months will be crucial for determining the viability of the concept.

"We've only really looked at it from a high level at this point; we're starting to get down into the nuts and bolts now," Mr Benfell says.

Stumping up money for a unit to house workers is not an easy ask, but Mr Benfell reckons local businesses have to look at it from an "opportunity cost" perspective.

Initial costings sit at between $125,000 to $149,000 for the unit builds.

"We're mindful of trying to keep it cost effective," Mr Benfell says.

"It's up to them to look and say, 'It's not really what I want to do but it's what I'm going to have to do'."

Mr Benfell remains hopeful the business community stepping up to help fill a housing gap will only need to be a short-term fix, and regulatory and planning changes at both local and central government levels in years to come will kick in to ease supply pressures in the longer term.

"But we're not sitting back waiting, anyway. We're definitely going to push forward, and if there's enough demand it will happen; if not, then it won't."

Genuis Homes has been approached for comment.

Main image (Facebook/Creation Signs)

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