Schools, health centres and even the police force are experiencing difficulties recruiting and retaining staff on Waiheke because of accommodation costs.
The dearth of affordable housing is understood to be a factor in the recent departure of the island’s top policeman, Sergeant Chris Kerekere.
Businesses including retailers and vineyards also say the high cost of renting (let alone buying) is making it difficult to attract and retain staff.
Department store Waiheke Living recently lost a staff member because of the cost of housing, co-owner Jenny Amies says. “She lived on her own and rented a one-bedroom place but it was so expensive she just couldn’t sustain it.
“She decided to leave the island and move south of Auckland.”
Mrs Amies says the issue influences her selection process when recruiting. “If they don’t own a house or have nowhere to stay, I’m almost reluctant to even interview them.
“Most of my staff are either home owners or very comfortable with their accommodation.
She can see no end to the situation unless rents come down, though that’s unlikely with mortgage interest rates beginning to rise.
Te Huruhi Primary principal Adam Cels says the school has been struggling to fill positions and accommodation costs are a factor. A staff member’s departure earlier this year was linked to the cost of housing, he says.
“Talking to other principals, the problem is Auckland-wide.
“For me, it’s recruitment that’s the problem – accommodation certainly comes up as a factor when people apply or during interviews.”
Sandy Letchford, acting chairperson for the Waiheke Health Trust, agrees the crisis is a regional one.
“We’ve even had doctors from overseas comment that they hadn’t realised how expensive it is to live here. It is a problem, particularly for our lower paid workers such as home support workers.
“Some of our workers are finding it very hard to find affordable housing and some have actually moved off the island.”
Those in the public service lament past government decisions to dispose of housing rented to workers such as teachers and police on the island.
Karen Armstrong, operations manager at Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant, says rental costs have been a perennial issue over her six years at the venue, more so since it opened a second restaurant. The vineyard houses some staff but struggles to fill new positions.
“When we reach out to people who apply, one reason they won’t come is accommodation.
It’s either not accessible or too expensive for them.”
In this year’s Budget, the Government signalled changes from next April that will enable low income earners and beneficiaries on Waiheke to gain a higher accommodation supplement. The island’s reclassification from ‘area two’ to ‘area one’ will see the maximum weekly supplement rise for single person homes from $100 to $165; for two-person households from $125 to $235; and for households of three or more from $165 to $305.
• Geoff Cumming