18 November 2022

Planning department refuses both proposals to address housing crisis

| Zoe Cartwright
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Temporary housing at Moruya Airport

Far too many people have been forced to live rough at Moruya Airport. Photo: Kim Treasure.

It sounds like something out of the Depression era, but the housing crisis on the South Coast is so out of hand about 50 families live in tents at Moruya Airport alone.

The community includes workers and children.

Eurobodalla Shire Council wrote to the Department of Planning to ask whether amendments could be made to legislation that would allow caravan parks to increase the number of long-term residents they are allowed to accept. A similar amendment was made to accommodate residents who lost their homes in the 2019/20 bushfires.

The council also asked whether it would be possible to further limit the number of days short-term rentals are allowed to be let out, from 180 days to 90.

The Department of Planning refused both options.

Acting deputy secretary Felicity Greenway wrote that it would not be “appropriate” to extend provisions made in the wake of the bushfires.

“Expanding the current exemption to include people impacted by a housing crisis is not considered appropriate because there would be a lack of certainty about who would qualify for the exemption,” she said.

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“A housing crisis also has a much more complex set of drivers and is likely to persist over a longer timeframe than a natural disaster.

“The economic impact of converting short-term tourist sites to long-term accommodation also needs to be carefully considered.”

There are about 8000 vacant dwellings in the Eurobodalla Shire. Many of them are let out at a premium as Airbnb properties over the summer.

In an attempt to increase the number of properties available as residential homes during the housing crisis, the NSW Government introduced a statewide regulatory framework for short-term rental accommodation (STRA) in November 2021.

This includes the requirement that owners who keep properties empty to let over peak periods must register with the scheme, and caps at 180 the number of days a year that short-term rentals can be let.

Ms Greenway said there was no evidence to support the idea that further limiting the number of days short-term rentals are allowed to be let out would increase the housing stock available to long-term renters.

She also acknowledged that there were more vacant homes in the Eurobodalla than were listed on the Government’s STRA registry.

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“As you may be aware, the rate of unoccupied homes in Eurobodalla Shire is much greater than the number of active STRA registrations,” she said in her response to the council.

“This indicates that Eurobodalla has a greater proportion of holiday homes or second homes held only for private use that could potentially be used for long-term accommodation.

“Previous economic investigations … suggested that lowering the day caps has only a minor positive impact on increasing long-term rental availability.

“The Department will consider the issue of day caps for non-hosted STRA activities across the State as part of the STRA policy review.

“It is anticipated that this review will commence within two years of the commencement of the policy (November 2023).”

Ms Greenway said the NSW Government would continue to work with the council to find solutions to the housing crisis, but did not provide any detail on what those solutions might look like.

For those living in cars, tents and the streets across the region, that may be two years too late.

Homeless people have a life expectancy about 30 years below the Australian average, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Time is running out for many.

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