New Zealand's '3K for Christchurch' Work Incentive Scheme Slammed for Housing Shortage

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The New Zealand government has offered cash to unemployed Kiwis in exchange for work in Christchurch. On May 6, the government has announced it will give welfare beneficiaries NZ$3,000 to relocate in the city and find a full-time job in the ongoing rebuilding of the quake-damaged city.

Christchurch has slowly been getting back on its feet after the earthquake in 2011 that claimed 185 lives and destroyed most of the downtown area.

According to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, the reconstruction in Christchurch has generated thousands of job opportunities. However, New Zealanders who need jobs do not have the resources to move to Christchurch.

Ms Bennett said the cash supplied by the government will help pay for their expenses in relocation, accommodation, tools and other equipment. She said more workers are needed not only in construction but also in the retail and hospitality industry.

The cash-for-work program in Christchurch is currently limited to only 1,000 New Zealanders.  According to the figures from Statistics New Zealand, the unemployment rate in Canterbury which includes Christchurch is lower than national's 6 per cent at 3.4 per cent. The "3K to Christchurch" scheme is available to New Zealanders without jobs aged 18 to 24.  

The agency's latest survey revealed that employment in the construction industry has increased to more than 7 per cent in Canterbury in 2013.

The cash incentive program worth $3.5 million was met with criticism from housing providers who said the market in Christchurch cannot cope with the sudden influx of people. The housing providers condemned the scheme and said new workers had no place to stay.

Companies involved in the rebuilding effort were also against the idea since they needed professional workers and not unskilled ones. Employers said there was no guarantee for unskilled workers to pay their rent right away.

Patricia Bowden, owner of Harcourts Accommodation Centre, said the influx may cause rent to increase. She said it was already "extremely difficult" to find any short-term accommodation in Christchurch. According to reports, many are currently struggling to find accommodation especially the young and elderly renters.

Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi said the scheme was "not thought out very well" and she was hoping the government had taken the time to consult housing providers first before announcing the incentive program.

Prime Minister John Key said the government was aware of the lack of housing but solutions were being made to ease the problem. Mr Key said large companies can provide short-term accommodation to workers. Another option would be to stay with relatives or friends in the area.  

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