Having somewhere safe and comfortable to live is fundamental to a decent life. But in Australia, housing is increasingly out of reach, particularly for people on lower incomes including young people. Housing in Australia is amongst the most expensive in the world thanks to decades of poor public policy. A nine-bedroom 13th century chateau set in more than 7000 square metres of parkland in eastern France is cheaper than a two bedroom apartment in Sydney.

The problem is not just limited to Sydney and Melbourne. Demand for housing in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs for holiday properties, investment properties and (well funded) retirement properties has driven housing prices up, making it more and more difficult for ordinary people to buy or rent decent accommodation locally. Million dollar houses are now common and a 600 square metre block is typically $300,000 close to town. It is becoming hard for ordinary people who work locally to live here. The problem will only get worse as telecommuting catches on and higher income professionals look for attractive places to live within a reasonable distance of Melbourne.

For people who are disadvantaged and on very low incomes the problems are dire. Victoria has the lowest proportion of social housing in the country at 3.2% of dwellings, well below the national average of 4.5%. Homelessness is a real and growing problem.

There are number of policy changes that could be introduced to improve housing affordability – reforms to negative gearing, capital gains tax, land tax, estate duties, foreign investment rules and planning schemes. In addition, we need a much stronger commitment from government to introducing a sustainable long- term rental market and a comprehensive social housing scheme.

Locally, the Hepburn Shire Council has an important role in developing affordable housing. From 1 June 2018, the Planning and Environment Act 1987 includes a new objective “to facilitate the provision of affordable housing in Victoria”. This includes public housing, social housing and housing provided by community housing associations. One of the Council Plan 2017-21 objectives is to regularly update its planning to ‘…address social issues such as availability of housing …’.

There are different ways a Council could facilitate Affordable Housing, including:

  • advocacy – to state and federal government for funding of Affordable Housing and to the development sector to identify ways of delivering Affordable Housing,
  • encouragement – small opportunities within council to encourage Affordable Housing, for example reduction or waiving of rates,
  • planning mechanisms – negotiating Affordable Housing as part of a planning scheme amendment or planning permit,
  • investment – providing free or discounted council land for, or direct investment into, Affordable Housing, and
  • partnership – developing partnerships with health and community service providers that can add value to social housing developments by ensuring that residents have the necessary local supports in place.

Hepburn Council is considering the development of a Housing Strategy. Council will need to conduct a generational study of housing needs for Daylesford and Hepburn to underpin its strategy. The study will need to consider the medium and long-term demand and supply of housing for short and long-term rentals, residents, affordable housing and social housing. This should include partnerships with affordable housing providers, access to services including public transport, childcare, education, aged care and health services and the utilities such as gas, sewerage and water. Council is seeking grant funding to conduct this project.

Council changes to the planning scheme, including the housing strategy, are now out for comment.

Daylesford and Hepburn Springs are attractive places to live. It would be a shame if planning and policy weren’t up to the job locally. There are community concerns that Council has not done enough to address local affordable housing. It will be important for the Council to engage the community as part of the ongoing development of the local housing strategy to address this shortfall.

See related story: A Warm Bed for the Night