New community scheme aims to help Wanaka's accommodation crisis

Wanaka has an accommodation crisis. Workers who prop up the town are living in hostels and many are forced to sleep in vans.

But a new scheme aims to see the community open their homes to workers - to help solve their town's decades-long problem.

A van is now home for Ash Hughes - not ideal when it's below freezing outside.

"With a hot water bottle I'm not too bad but yeah do wake up a little cold in the morning," he says.

He works as a cook at Cardrona and he's been looking for a room in Wanaka since the start of May -  one of many workers who can't find accommodation.

"I've been pretty lucky. My friends have let me park up on their driveways, obviously some friends have offered me couches, but I'm 32, I kind of want to be able to live by myself on my own terms," he says.

It's an age-old problem in Wanaka. But this year it's worse, partly due to the new residential tenancy laws which make it much harder for landlords to get rid of tenants.

Homeowners can take back their homes for a minimum of 90 days - but that doesn't work for a ski holiday.

As a result, local rental property managers say the number of properties on their books has halved since last year. Many workers have resorted to living in hostels.

"I found with a lot of the hostel rooms you're sharing with a group of people, some working weekends, or late nights, some are down for the weekend and partying and it's quite hard to get that balance of being able to get up at 6am for work," Hughes says.

Local woman Carmen Blackler says the workers who underpin the town's economy deserve better.

She started the Wanaka Accommodation Network (WAN) to connect workers with locals who might have a spare room, sleepout or house.

"When you think of the mountain, it's not just the lifties and the ski instructors, it's the extra physios we bring on board to help with the influx of people," she says.

"It's the mountain safety people. Yes it's the chefs, it's the baristas, but all of those people make up the experience we have when we're on the mountain. And without them it wouldn't be the same."

It's free to sign up and those looking for somewhere to live must be verified by their employer.

Sophie Ward used WAN to connect with three young workers who will rent her house for six weeks while she's away she urges other locals to do the same.

"We rely on seasonal workers to make our town work and it's always going to be like that, so we have to solve it because it's part of what makes this place tick."

For workers like Hughes, almost anywhere would be a step up from sleeping in his van.