Cook Islands resident Greg Stanaway, a 35-year veteran of the tourism hospitality sector, says the effect of tourism growth on Rarotonga’s long-term rental accommodation options is two-pronged.
“At one end you have an increase in the number of expats working in tourism-related businesses who need long-term accommodation, and on the other end you have a growing number of new units and existing quality houses being earmarked for the potentially more lucrative, short-term, Airbnb-style holiday market,” he says.
“Those are the market forces in play at the moment.”
Scroll down the Rarotonga Community or Holiday Homes Facebook pages and you’ll soon see the real-life result of those market forces Stanaway is talking about.
“Urgently looking for a long-term rental.” “Any leads are highly appreciated.” “Willing to pay extra for the right house.” “Not fussy as to location.” “Our rental has fallen through last minute.” “Ready to move in.” “Desperately needing long-term accommodation.” “We still haven’t had any luck finding a rental house.”
Both Cook Islanders and expat workers alike have been affected by the shortage, says Stanaway.
“Anecdotal evidence would suggest that there is a particular shortage in the availability of good quality one and two-bedroom residences in the $175-$350 per week range.
“This means that Cook Islands singles, couples or Cook Islander friends wanting to flat together and who are earning good wages or salary are unable to find good standards of housing.
“The same situation applies to many expat mid-management workers and professionals who need their own living space as opposed to shared facilities.”
Returning Cook Islander Paul Crombie, who moved back with his wife and four-year-old daughter from Australia earlier this year, says part of the problem they had with finding long-term rental accommodation was a lack of information on what was available.
“I can’t even remember finding any real estate website that particularly focused on available houses for rent,” he says.
“We were crossing our fingers and hoping on potluck that Facebook group pages would be able to point us in the right direction.”
As well as the difficulties experienced by returning Cook Islanders, there have also been instances of expat workers whose employers have promised them accommodation with their jobs, only to find on arrival that the housing provided was less than suitable.
“I am currently working in Muri and was offered accommodation with my job, only to find out that there is no hot water, limited electricity and no cooking or washing facilities,” posted one worker from New Zealand on Facebook. “I am desperately looking for somewhere to stay for the next six months.”
Stanaway acknowledges that stories like this one “are most unfortunate and not good for the reputation of the Cooks as a good place to live and work”, but says his feeling is that “those type of employers and their accommodation facilities will not have a sustainable future”.
“Employers must learn that even if they have not entered into tenancy agreements for their workers, there is a pastoral care element to having workers here and they must take some responsibility in inducting them into Cook Islands cultural and societal norms,” he adds.
On the other side of the coin, Stanaway says landlords too can fall victim to irresponsible tenants.
“Regretfully there are also stories of housing that has been trashed by foreign workers to the point that landlords will no longer let their facilities out to foreigners,” he says.
As luck would have it, it was just that type of situation that led to Crombie and his family eventually finding a place to live.
“The owner of the house we are renting had woken up one morning from a particularly good night’s sleep and decided it was time to rent out her house again after a two-year hiatus caused by the trauma she went through with her previous renters,” he explains.
Despite now being happily settled in his family’s new home, Crombie says finding a decent place to rent shouldn’t have to be that hard, even citing “increased stress levels in my wife’s behaviour”.
“It is extremely difficult to find rentals, topped off with the fact that you have limited information to scour through,” he says.
“It’s definitely not an easy task, as all returning Cook Islanders with limited family here discover.”