Sharing a room in a Wellington hostel with 7 other people is a better option than going flat, says 58-year-old

In March 2018, homeownership was at its lowest in nearly 70 years. Since then, the median price has almost doubled and the rent has increased by a quarter. Things off the scale the series speaks to those priced out of the market.

When Kate Jensen, 58, falls asleep at night, she can wake up to seven new faces in her bedroom.

The marketing student has taken up residence in a high-end hostel for more than a month and is in no rush to put her name on a flat lease.

58-year-old university student Kate Jensen would rather not have a permanent home than struggle with Wellington's rental market.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

58-year-old university student Kate Jensen would rather not have a permanent home than struggle with Wellington’s rental market.

Jensen is a former landlady who sold her house to Alexandra to move in with her then partner in Whitianga.

The relationship turned physically abusive, so she fled to Wellington: “In the process, I lost a lot of money, and now I can’t afford to buy a house.”

Jensen’s sister took her in for a year and a half, before she made the difficult decision to go back to school.

“I knew I would be putting in some serious hours and I didn’t want to commute from Paraparaumu,” she said.

She heard about the Marion St hostel, then its sister hostel The Dwellington in Thorndon, a few minutes from the Pipitea campus near Parliament.

THINGS

About 28,000 homes in New Zealand are still damp and still have visible mold, according to a report.

Both charge nightly rates that fluctuate based on demand.

Jensen pays $32 per night, or $224 per week, and that includes a free daily breakfast, electricity, internet, and fresh linens.

Often people who stay longer move into a four- or five-bed shared room, but Jensen started with all eight beds to start with.

“Because we all have this free breakfast of Havana cereal, fruit, eggs and coffee, the people who live here have a reason to come together,” she said.

Hostel residents store their cooking utensils in lockers.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

Hostel residents store their cooking utensils in lockers.

“The environment is like being part of a dynamic and strange, but friendly family.”

Meanwhile, the price of a private room in a shared apartment can range from $160 – “for a real scungy”, to – “something decent” for $270 a week.

For Jensen, it was a no-brainer.

Jensen pays $32 per night, or $224 per week to say in the 8-bed dorm, and that includes free breakfast every day.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

Jensen pays $32 per night, or $224 per week to say in the 8-bed dorm, and that includes free breakfast every day.

Wellington was the first area in the country to break the $600 median weekly rent mark, with a record high of $615 per week in January, according to the Trade Me Rental Price Index.

Rents stabilized at this price in February, while demand fell 12% compared to February last year.

The communal kitchen is Jensen's favorite part of the hostel accommodation.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

The communal kitchen is Jensen’s favorite part of the hostel accommodation.

The median weekly rent for a three to four bedroom home in the city of Wellington was $770 in February, while a one to two bedroom home was $500.

“When I tell people I basically rent here, they say you’re good that you tried, or you’re pretty brave.”

But the way of life is a necessity, more than a lifestyle choice: “I had to have a place to live and when I looked at it from a financial point of view while I was a student, it was better .

Jensen's only complaint about hostel life is the lack of privacy in the shared room.

The Dwellington/Supplied

Jensen’s only complaint about hostel life is the lack of privacy in the shared room.

She has a small tutoring job, but otherwise survives on a weekly student allowance of $330. The maximum his weekly budget can spend on rent is $250, with the rest remaining for all other expenses.

Jensen applied for Council accommodation, which is significantly cheaper than the market rate, but remains unfazed by his lack of permanent residency. The most negative comment she would make about her situation is that the 8 bedroom dorm is ‘somehow’ due to lack of privacy.

Wellington City Council (WCC) owns 1927 properties in the city of Wellington, from Miramar to Tawa. They are currently 97% occupied and the number of new requests, as of March 31, was 500.

The 6 bed dorm has a double bed and two bunk beds.  Slightly larger 8-bed dorms have three bunk beds.

Provided

The 6 bed dorm has a double bed and two bunk beds. Slightly larger 8-bed dorms have three bunk beds.

A city council-owned studio that might suit someone like Jensen rents for between $129.50 and $161.00 a week, or a one-bedroom house rents for between $175.00 and $266.00. However, rates are currently under review and the WCC plans to update them within two months.

Conditions of eligibility are also under study.

While most people in the hostel dorm are considerate, sometimes someone comes in late at night and turns on the main light while others are sleeping, Jensen said. But living together “is actually pretty cool.”

“The kitchen is beautiful with lots of space to do things. I’m trying to make more plant-based foods, so I found it inspiring to see how other people cook. Lots of spices and oils are provided, and there are always bits in the free food box people leave behind.

The theater is used as a large living room, says Kate Jensen.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

The theater is used as a large living room, says Kate Jensen.

“I like to watch Netflix in the cinema, which is a bit like an arthouse cinema. We can use the tennis courts and the sauna next door, the office, and often people do yoga outside in the morning in the garden.”

The hostel attracts a wide range of characters, she said, including a 19-year-old university student who couldn’t find an apartment, “quite a few” tourists aged 24 to 30 who stayed for the pandemic (and found work as a baker, painter and arborist), a British couple in their 50s and a Kiwi couple in their 40s.

A few long-term residents are carrying out clean-up work to reduce the price of their accommodation.

Hostel guests have access to nearby tennis courts.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

Hostel guests have access to nearby tennis courts.

Private rooms are only rented by the night, but if Jensen could move into one, she would stay there indefinitely: “I really like social life. I have to be friends with a lot of people and we let’s share wine while playing Uno.

At press time, Jensen had been offered a temporary babysitting gig by a friend. She plans to take this for the next few weeks and then return to the hostel.

“I gave up on renting an apartment and put it in the basket too hard,” she said.

The Dwellington Inn in Thorndon, Wellington.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

The Dwellington Inn in Thorndon, Wellington.

The Housing in Aotearoa: 2020 report by Stats NZ and the Building Research Association of New Zealand found around 28,000 homes were still damp and still had visible mould. It found tenants were more likely to suffer from damp and mold than landlords and Housing New Zealand homes were even more likely to be damp or moldy.

Jensen describes the Dwellington and its sister hostel, the Marion, as a “beacon of light”.

“A student I met at Marion was living there full time in his fourth and final year of study and told me it was his first winter in the city where he had been warm.

“What a mess [sic] thing to be our flattering standard.

Jensen would rather share a hostel room and have a beautiful setting than rent a cold, musty, or dirty private apartment at a higher price.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

Jensen would rather share a hostel room and have a beautiful setting than rent a cold, musty, or dirty private apartment at a higher price.

Linda G. Ibarra