The Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) is a well intentioned initiative supported by the Gore District Council, the Southland District Council and the Invercargill City Council. While the final strategy is still to be publicly released some key issues have been identified and some solutions suggested. The region's population is a relatively static and aging one, therefore a goal of increasing our population by 10,000 people by 2025 has already been proposed as a major goal.
I have some serious concerns about the logistical issues and economic realities of this goal. I asked Tom Campbell (SoRDS Chair) a question regarding our current housing supply and quality during a recent presentation and he informed the meeting that the provision of the necessary infrastructure was not part of their brief. I also have expressed my concern about the people that SoRDS are hoping to attract, it appears that the key magnets will be the Southern Institute of Technology's educational opportunities and jobs created by the tourist industry and an expansion of aquaculture. While these industries will create greater economic activity, fish factory workers, service workers and students don't generally have deep wallets.
Invercargill has housing problems not that dissimilar from Auckland, relative to our population. We have around 400 homeless at any given time and a shortage of supply. No new state houses have been built in Invercargill since the early 90s and the quality of rental housing is poor. I am part of a community housing steering group that has gained funding from the Invercargill City Council to pay a researcher to properly quantify our current housing needs, which already appear extensive.
If we are going to bring in 10,000 more people here we need to have appropriate housing and we probably should address the current needs first before we add more pressure to the rental market. If most of those arriving will be earning minimal wages, few will be buying or building their own homes. We don't want to end up with similar housing problems to Queenstown and need to plan ahead.
Local retailers in the Invercargill inner city are struggling to survive and there are a growing number of empty spaces. While creating more attractions like a new public art gallery may help, few have identified our low wage economy as a contributing factor. Half of those of working age in Invercargill earn less than $27,400 and and only 23.5% earn more than $50,000. Despite the Southland region earning around 12% of New Zealand's export income with just 3% of the population, our median income is less than the national median.
Over the last decade or so we have lost many state and private sector jobs that supported higher incomes. DoC has had major staffing cuts, the IRD has a reduced presence and banks are closing branches and reducing staff. The dairy boom did not support higher wages for farm workers and the exploitation of international students and migrant workers has been an issue here as it has elsewhere. Invercargill got its first Decile 1 school after the last census because of the decline in family incomes.
Invercargill needs good jobs and good housing and it will need leadership from local and central governments to achieve it, paying living wages may be a first step...