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Tatiara tackles housing

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Gabrielle Duykers, Naracoorte Community News

Tatiara District Council has been praised for its “proactive” efforts to mitigate the region’s housing crisis, which includes zero rental vacancies in Bordertown.

The Local Government Association of South Australia (LGASA) recently made a submission to a federal inquiry into housing affordability, analysing the major factors impacting the limited property supply in metropolitan and regional SA.

In the submission, Tatiara council was used as a case study for how the worsening situation was impacting the local economy, but was hailed for the initiatives it had undertaken to address the issue.

“Tatiara District Council has been proactive in sourcing funding and partnering with other government and non-government stakeholders to increase the regional supply of residential accommodation,” the LGASA submission read.

The current rental vacancy rate in Bordertown is zero per cent, and less than ten houses are up for sale.

Furthermore, the PropTrack Regional Australia 2021 Report released last week found buyers in the Limestone Coast are having to pay a premium for properties, with a quarter of sales in the region selling for more than 10 per cent above the list price.

Tatiara CEO Anne Champness said council had been aware of limited housing availability in the region for more than a decade, but the situation had further escalated in recent years.

“We’ve done a lot of advocacy on this over the last three to four years both to State and Federal governments, but we’ve also tried to come up with a practical solution and that’s been a real challenge,” Ms Champness said.

Tatiara has undertaken numerous steps to try and address the issue, particularly in the past 12 months.

In 2020, it sourced funding through round four of the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions program to build eight new cabins at the Bordertown Caravan Park, at a cost of $1.4 million, with $700,000 funded by council.

“The idea behind those is that while primarily they are for tourism, they are also for anyone who comes to the region who can’t find accommodation,” Ms Champness said. “It’s especially somewhere people can stay when they have a new job.”

The cabins are set for completion by the end of the year.

Through round five of the same Federal Government program, council was recently successful in applying for new workers’ accommodation, with the official funding agreement still under negotiations.

Ms Champness said eight single-bedroom units would be built in Bordertown, which would provide “more basic and cheap accommodation” than for those looking to rent.

Tatiara has also partnered with Unity Housing to build two four-bedroom “affordable” rental properties on a matched funding basis.

Earmarked for 159 and 160 Seventh St, Bordertown, the houses will include solar panels to help tenants with electricity bills.

Once completed, each will be rented at 74.9 per cent or less of market rates to a low-income family.

Ms Champness said the partnership could potentially open the door for similar projects in future.

“We’re hoping we can use this as a proof of concept that is a really accessible model and hopefully get the State and Federal Government to do more of that in the long run,” she said.

In June this year, council also began developing a business case with Renewal SA for a subdivision development cooperative on Bennett Street in Keith.

Council purchased the land more than 12 years ago when it started to become aware of issues with housing availability in the region.

As part of the feasibility study, council conducted a survey on local businesses and asked what their housing needs were.

“Everybody who responded indicated that they needed staff,” Ms Champness said. “Most indicated that they considered the need for housing to be immediate within the next 12 months.

“However, what was really encouraging was that most respondents indicated they were willing to invest themselves to help address the housing challenge.”

A barrier to growth

Ms Champness said the ongoing shortage of accommodation was hindering economic development in the region, due to businesses’ inability to attract and house staff.

As reported by The Advertiser, JBS Bordertown has purchased the Dukes Highway Motel for $1.85m in response to the housing crisis.

The motel’s 34 rooms will be converted into workers’ accommodation, as the meat processing looks to ramp up its production from 5800 animals to 6500.

Ms Champness said insufficient housing had previously prevented a proposed expansion at JBS which would have provided more than 40 additional jobs in food manufacturing, more than $25 million in annual economic output, and an estimated 103 indirect jobs.

Ms Champness said the insufficient housing supply could be attributed to the absence of attractive capital gains to entice investors, and risks associated with the regional real estate market’s reliance on a few major employers.

“A less diversified economy with a lower number of major employers poses a higher risk to the rental market and investment made,” she said.

Tatiara’s low unemployment rate is fuelling the scarcity, sitting at just 2.4 per cent, compared to 5.2 per cent statewide, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics report in September 2021.

More than 280 jobs are currently advertised in the Tatiara region.

“Our unemployment rate is so low as to represent near full employment, meaning our employers have to bring significant numbers of workers into the region to fill ongoing as well as seasonal job vacancies,” Ms Champness said.

Looking forward, Tatiara council is considering establishing a temporary housing register with a list of spare rooms for lodging, and implementing a deferred payment policy for development infrastructure.

Ray White Bordertown Real Estate sales representative Hayden Obst said encouraging developers to build in the area would also help ease the strain, but it “may not be viable” for investors.

Furthermore, he said Ray White’s inability to meet the property demand had seen changes in its everyday operations.

“We have to deal with a lot of disappointed tenants who are missing out, which obviously isn’t an enjoyable experience” Mr Obst said.

Naracoorte Community News 1 December 2021

This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 1 December 2021.

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