Local group, Safe Place Homes Inc., held a forum on Thursday 4th March in Daylesford, to hear the community’s views about the current housing situation and potential solutions. The Forum was well attended by residents, business professionals, councillors, and Safe Place members.
In the Hepburn Shire approximately 50 people sleep rough every night and half of all lower to moderate income households are in stress. Increasing population and less government responsibility for providing social housing, have resulted in increasing homelessness and a serious lack of affordable housing.
Following the global pandemic, Australia’s houses are now less affordable than any other time in history. Hepburn Shire house prices rose by 9.6% over the year with an increase of 54.6% over five years. This exacerbates the struggle to find affordable housing in the Hepburn Shire for low income earners. It is a problem particularly endemic in regions that rely on tourism, where the more lucrative returns from holiday rentals reduce the availability of long term rentals.
A major hurdle for improving affordable housing in the region has been that the Shire has had no affordable housing policy. Without a defined strategy, addressing the problem has been left to uncoordinated methods of individuals, groups and charitable foundations. Through lobbying by members of the Safe Place Homes group, the council have agreed to develop a policy which will be considered in April. Having a policy in place will facilitate potential council actions, including advocacy to state and federal government for funding and encouragement of developments in the affordable housing sector by waiving or reducing fees and streamlining bureaucratic processes.
Mary-Faeth Chenery chaired the forum outlining that the purpose of the forum was to clarify the issues about affordable and suitable housing in Hepburn Shire and to explore what is achievable in the short and long term. David Hall then explained the genesis of the Safe Place Homes (SPH) group. In the three years of its existence SPH has commissioned a research fellow to analyse the situation in the Shire, lobbied the council to form a housing policy and been involved in the purchase of land in Creswick which will provide housing for older women through the not for profit Haven; Home Safe organisation.
Lenka Thomson, PhD candidate and policy writer for local government and affordable housing strategies, presented a summary of the SPH commissioned Housing Gap Analysis report. The report was funded by the Bendigo Bank – Daylesford and District Community Bank and Trentham Community Bank.
The report found that of the Hepburn Shire’s 16,000 residents and 6,000 households, just over half are on very low, low or moderate-income and more than 30% are experiencing housing stress. A household is said to be in housing stress if they pay more than 30% of their income into housing costs.
Housing stress has a significant impact on health. The general health of the Shire’s community is considered to be one of the poorest in the state. The ramifications of poor health in the community cannot be understated.
The Housing Gap Analysis uncovered an immediate need for 277 affordable rental dwellings in the Shire, with this figure projected to reach 344 by 2036. People in need of housing were single mothers with children, local hospitality and farm workers, women escaping domestic violence, job seekers, older women, and low income families.
The overwhelming consensus from the forum was that more affordable housing is needed urgently.
The problem is multidimensional and will need multiple solutions. The Hepburn Shire is not alone in this problem. Cities and towns around the world are grappling with similar issues.
The consensus of the forum was that the community should be outraged that so many of its members are in such a distressing position. We need to take action to address this.
Safe Place welcomes your help.
Margot Tasca is the Communications Coordinator for Safe Place Hepburn.