A commmunity services provider is moving into a new home as it looks to providing more social housing in the future.
Safer Mid Canterbury's general manager Kevin Clifford said the demand for community services in Mid Canterbury continues to be substantial, including from families struggling with rising costs of living.
As the community service provider’s umbrella continues to grow, so too has its team.
The group is moving into new, larger office to cater for their increasing role in the community.
“Over the past two years it’s become very evident we have outgrown our current space with staff having to reside in other offices,” Clifford said.
The group didn't have to move far, leasing the building next door to their old offices at Community House, where they were based for six years.
After a major fit-out, the building is now ready. With 35 staff members, the building has room for 38 and potential capacity for 46.
In his 17 years with Safer Mid Canterbury, Clifford has moved six times and believed the new building “should meet our needs for a very long time”. The building has a 15-year lease and the right of renewal.
Its major funder, the Ashburton District Council, provided $248,000 in 2023.
Clifford also has more plans for the future.
After purchasing a property last year as short-term accommodation for the refugee resettlement programme, Clifford said they hoped to secure a second investment property for social housing for refugee families.
“[We] are looking to build up to a total of four houses in that area, creating some capital that might allow us to get into other sorts of social and short-term housing.
“It’s a long-term goal.”
The current focus is short-term housing for refugee families arriving in the district, but he wanted to branch into more social housing options.
Over 70 Afghani refugees have been settled into the district with support from the Refugee Settlement Support Service, Clifford said.
The group's school attendance service has also experienced change, Clifford said.
An increase in Government funding enabled SMC to hire more staff, with the equivalent of 2.4 full-time staff, which “will make a big difference”.
“We have more staffing so we have more time to spend with people.”
Another service is the Community Connector – the district's sole public transport option – which has had a big increase in passengers.
Passenger trips jumped from 39 to 188 from the 2022 to 2023 financial year.
Cost of living crunch
The rising cost of living is resulting in Safer Mid Canterbury seeing a lot of people that have not required their support before, Clifford said.
“Many of the issues we have always dealt with are still prevalent, however, the cost of living for some is making life quite difficult.
“In the past, a number of our people we dealt with may not have always been engaged in employment, but now we are seeing families with two people engaged in employment and still having struggles at times with the costs.”
Even for “people who are quite sensible with their money”, when a mortgage goes up a couple of hundred dollars a week [due] to the higher interest rates it can make a substantial difference to people's situations, he said.
“The first thing people stop doing is spending – stop buying coffee, going to places, and buying fuel, they stop all those things which probably hurts the economy as well.
“I don’t know if there is a big answer except for supporting people to how they might budget better," he said.
There is support for people who are struggling, and SMC can refer families to local budget support services, he said.
By Jonathan Leask