INVERCARGILL Mayor Tim Shadbolt has reservations about the city becoming a refugee resettlement location.
The Government told the Invercargill City Council it would help the refugees find accommodation and employment in the city, but Mr Shadbolt questioned how this would be done.
“So where are these jobs for the refugees and where is the accommodation, and will this follow the Auckland pattern of driving up rental prices?
“That is why I am reluctant to endorse the Government’s programme unless I see evidence of that wrap-around support.”
The council had not been adequately consulted about the decision prior to the announcement, he said.
“The Government had informed the council refugees were coming to live in Invercargill, but that was very different from consultation, which is a very rigorous process at local government.”
Mr Shadbolt said a low-level administration position at the council had attracted 140 applicants and other human resources departments in the city had reported similar responses when filling job vacancies.
Mr Shadbolt is the child of a refugee. His mother was born in West Timor and became part of the Dutch Colonial Service in Indonesia. When the Japanese occupied Indonesia during World War 2, his mother sought asylum in New Zealand, later becoming a New Zealand citizen.
“As a result of that experience, I am not opposed to refugees coming here… but as a country we have to be really prepared for it.”
Immigration New Zealand refugee and protection unit national manager Andrew Lockhart said about 60% of the refugees would be put up in state houses and 40% in private housing.
“We are not talking about big numbers [of refugees] in Invercargill. We won’t move people here until we can find houses.”
Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie said Immigration New Zealand would assist local government agencies to settle the refugees into the city, and the Red Cross’s employment programme would help the refugees find work.
“Finding employment is a key part of the resettlement process, helping people feel empowered and more involved in their new community.”
The refugees would bring “a host of economic benefits” to the city, including diversifying the range of skills in the region’s workforce, she said.
Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) governance group chairman Tom Campbell said the refugees would be well supported, which in itself would create jobs.
New Zealand Red Cross southern humanitarian services manager Sue Price confirmed the Invercargill Service Centre would need to recruit additional staff to support the refugees.
Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey said Southland businesses needed more workers, and the community was benefiting from the new migrants that were coming to Southland already.
Invercargill Labour candidate Liz Craig said the announcement had made the community realise how “precarious” its social services were.
“The solution is not to turn away a small number of people in desperate need of compassion, but [to consider] why we have under-invested in our safety social nets.”
Housing availability in Invercargill at present
Hoamz rental division manager Paula New said, as of Friday last week, it had 13 rental properties available. “If there was a mass amount of people wanting rental accommodation right now, it might be difficult, but if they trickled in, it would be different.”
Professionals Real Estate property manager Tom Dymond said, as of Monday, nearly 99% of rental properties on its books were tenanted. Depending on the number of refugees and the standard of the accommodation they required, it may put further pressure on the rental market in the city, he said.
Invercargill Salvation Army emergency accommodation senior support worker Dave Hope said it only provided short-term emergency accommodation, with nothing suitable for families at this stage. “I know there is a lack of accommodation in the private sector.”
Invercargill City Council (ICC) corporate services manager Steven Ridden said the 215 council-owned units were for people on a benefit, aged 60 years and over, and were not suitable for families. At present the units were filled to capacity, with about 12 on the urgent waiting list, he said.
ICC housing support officer Deborah Little said there was a shortage of affordable housing in the city at present. “You can’t pull something out of the hat that isn’t there.”
A Housing New Zealand (HNZ) spokesperson said, as of March 31, HNZ owned 355 properties in the ICC area, nine of which were vacant and required work before being tenanted. Immigration New Zealand was responsible for considering housing for the refugees, which may or may not include HNZ homes, he said.
REINZ statistics on residential real estate in Invercargill show sales fell 51% in Invercargill and 54% in Southland compared with April last year. It was the lowest level of sales for an April since 2000.
To read more about refugee settlement click here.