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Regional housing squeeze holding back economy: NSW Farmers

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NSW Farmers’ Association, Media Release, 24 May 2023

In-demand workers are facing soaring rents and dwindling vacancies in rural and regional areas, creating an “unsustainable” situation for the agricultural sector.

Tenants are paying at least 10 per cent more than last year for the majority of areas, with Upper Hunter rents the worst – jumping by 22.9 per cent. Communities with strong agricultural bases, such as Forbes, the Richmond Valley, Yass and Wagga Wagga were among those with 15 per cent rent rises, while the number of rental vacancies was far lower than the number of job ads, a trend NSW Farmers Workplace Relations chair Chris Stillard said was “unsustainable”.

“I know everyone is feeling the pinch with higher costs at the supermarket and rising electricity prices, but if people can’t afford to live in these places then we won’t get the workers we need to produce our food and fibre,” Mr Stillard said.

“Farmers are often at the bleeding edge of cost-of-living pain, taking lower and lower prices for our produce while paying more and more to grow it, and we absolutely empathise with rural and regional renters.

“This is a problem that needs to be solved, and soon.”

The issue of housing access and affordability was a key issue facing local, state and federal governments, and there were a range of solutions put forward, such as reducing short-term holiday rentals, building pre-fabricated homes for workers, and/or changing planning rules.

Mr Stillard said all options needed to be on the table and called for an urgent review that looked beyond metropolitan areas to the specific needs of rural, remote and regional communities.

“Available housing in rural, remote and regional areas is scarce – while the rental vacancy rate in the regions has lifted from last year, it is still below what would be considered a balanced market,” he said.

“If you look at Echuca and Moama, there are 22 rental vacancies and an additional 27 vacancies on AirBNB – those are additional properties that could be used to ease the rental market.

“It’s a similar situation in communities right across the state, and we’ve heard many stories of businesses buying old pubs or motels to house their workforce. If we’re going to attract doctors and nurses and teachers and tradies to regional areas we need somewhere for them to live.”

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