The scarcity of mental health facilities, huge increases in house prices and a lack of infrastructure spending are
taking the shine off living in small town New Zealand.
The Salvation Army’s fourth State of Our Communities Report focuses on Invercargill and Carterton and Tokoroa; three
very different towns whose residents are facing similar challenges. Using public data and interviews with 580 residents
across the three towns, the report illustrates the challenges and aspirations of those living there.
Rising house prices have forced many first homeowners out of major cities into smaller regions. While cheaper house
prices have beckoned, the promises of capital gains have also appealed to investors, pushing house prices up and locals
out of the market. Rents have risen accordingly, and for these three communities, stable, affordable rentals are
becoming harder to find.
In Carterton, the median house price has risen by 141 percent in five years, from $280,980 in 2016 to $677,162 in 2021.
In Tokoroa, locals spoke of homes that are cold, damp and run down, with landlords unwilling to spend money upgrading
Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit analyst Ana Ika, author of the State of our Communities August 2021
report, says seniors and youth are bearing the brunt of a lack of spending on educational facilities and healthcare in
small towns. “We have an ever-growing senior community with many struggling to get by,” she says.
“A lot of young people don’t have a lot to do. They are in schools that are often run down and doing their best with
limited resources. Once they leave school, there are a lack of work opportunities in smaller towns. Youth just don’t see
their town as giving them a future.”
Ms Ika says a major cry from locals from the three towns was for greater investment, help and access to mental health
and healthcare services. People spoke of increasing levels of depression, stress and anxiety, but inadequate mental
health services to address these concerns. Increasing drug use in the communities was seen as an escape from hardship.
One respondent in Invercargill said the situation was very concerning. “Our mental health system is broken. It’s a sad
day when our young people are so sad that they are attempting and taking their lives.”
However, all three towns share something very important – resilience. When asked what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
would see in Tokoroa, one correspondent summed it up like this:
“One day wouldn’t be enough to see the real Tokoroa, she’d see the rotten buildings and homes…families broken by drugs,
alcohol and gambling…beggars in the main street…. she wouldn’t have time to see the smiles that break through all that,
the inner strength we have, to overcome all these hurdles.”
Ms Ika says challenges facing small towns in New Zealand need innovative and creative solutions often already known by
locals. “But these small communities can’t do it alone. Central government, local government and local communities all
hold a piece of the puzzle. Overcoming these challenges requires collaboration.”