The Chatham Islands is about to embark on its most ambitious house-building project yet, to help ease a severe shortage in properties.

Housing is hard to find on the islands, with cases of some deposits of up to 50% required if someone is looking to buy.

The project is being led by Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri, who hopes to ease the housing shortage for families living there, which is hindering the economy.

The islands “can’t recruit families because there are no three-bedroom homes available for rental. It’s really quite hard,” said Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust’s Gail Amaru.

Mayor Monique Croon said people are desperate for new houses.

“I think, if you could build 30 houses here, we would fill them,” she said.

When the holidays end, the islands’ youngsters will return to the mainland for boarding school. It’s returning families the island wants to attract.

“It’s a lifestyle. People from here like to return, they like to contribute, and it’s a beautiful place to bring your tamariki up,” Amaru said.

“We want more people living here, there’s lots of jobs, there’s lots of things to do. It’s critical to supporting our shipping service; our air service, we need people,” Croon said.

Around 660 people live on the Chathams, but that number will grow with a plan for 100 new homes over the next 20 years.

But building on the islands comes at a steep price, costing nearly $1 million to construct a home.

“If you can get a mortgage, we’ve heard stories of 50% to 60% deposit,” Amaru said.

ANZ and BNZ banks say Chatham Island customers are subject to the same lending criteria as elsewhere.

The iwi trust is looking for alternatives.

“If we can’t break through that barrier, or them [banks] being tight, then we have to create our own mechanisms for lending.

“We are working on that, but it’s early days,” Amaru said.

Ground is expected to be broken for the new homes early this year.