Myths and realities of reconstruction workers’ accommodation

Alice Chang-Richards, Suzanne Wilkinson, Erica Seville, Dave Brunsdon

February 2013, Resilient Organisations Research Report 2013/02

Executive Summary

Christchurch and Canterbury suffered significant housing losses due to the earthquakes. Estimates from the Earthquake Commission (EQC) (2011) suggest that over 150,000 homes (around three quarters of Christchurch housing stock) sustained damage from the earthquakes. Some areas of Christchurch have been declared not suitable for rebuilding, affecting more than 7,500 residential properties. There are multiple pressures likely to come on to housing availability over the next few years:

  • Red zoned residents are looking for replacement housing,
  • Residents of damaged housing will be looking for temporary accommodation while their houses are repaired or rebuilt, and
  • Out-of-town workers coming in to support the rebuild (and their families) will be looking for either temporary or permanent housing.

International experience, together with Christchurch case studies, has suggested the above pressures may create the following ripple effects in Christchurch:

  • A lack of accommodation for construction workers is likely to be a major constraint to the rebuilding of Christchurch. The construction sector may experience difficulties sourcing temporary accommodation for out-of-town workers in suitable and affordable solutions, which could ultimately slow the rebuild.
  • Competing demand/ demand surge for temporary accommodation is likely to contribute to post-disaster inflation. If post-disaster inflation gets too high, it can hinder economic recovery.
  • Demand for housing from construction workers is likely to compound the shortage of houses available to residents displaced by the earthquakes. Case studies from a range of organisations involved in the Canterbury rebuild have shown that hiring strategies have changed the landscape of workforce demographics, as construction companies look overseas for skilled workers. To accommodate new and relocated/seconded employees from outside Christchurch, a number of accommodation options have been used, including:
    • Workers on short-term relocation/secondment (e.g. weekly or fortnightly fly in and out) are likely to stay in apartments, townhouses, motel and hotel rooms, Bed & Breakfast and home stays.
    • Staff on longer relocation and/or secondment are often housed in rental properties and company-owned houses
    • For those recruited from overseas on a short-term or permanent basis, as well as staff on permanent transfer, companies tend to provide relocation assistance as part of their employment package; This often involves providing temporary accommodation for a short period till they find their own temporary or permanent housing solutions. Most employees who relocated from overseas preferred to find permanent housing
    • In most cases, companies had found they needed to secure accommodation of various types on a longer lease and have at least one HR person dedicated to assisting staff in finding their own temporary or permanent housing solutions. Some companies secured the services of letting agencies to help fast track staff and their families into private rental properties, and to assist in property purchase if required.

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