Dear Editor,

It’s a bad time to be a developer, or a renter, in Hepburn Shire! The first has their projects consistently blocked by an activist community and the second can’t find anywhere to live in the midst of an unprecedented housing shortage.

It should surprise nobody that these two problems are inextricably linked. One causes the other. I don’t blame the community for being upset. When they’re consistently told that developers swoop into town, buy up the housing and take rentals off market to run them as AirBNBs, why wouldn’t locals have an axe to grind against developers?

And yes, a small number of developers with deep pockets do snap up scarce housing stock and convert it to large group accommodation. But they aren’t the only ones with their hand in the cookie jar. Locals, too, have been drawn by the lure of strong rental returns and moved from long term rentals to short stay AirBNBs.

But that’s not the way the vast majority of commercial developers operate. Businesses like Clifftop at Hepburn build holiday accommodation from the ground up. Far from removing rental stock from the market, this approach has real and substantial benefits for the community. It creates jobs, supports the visitor economy and ensures that not a single house is removed from the ailing rental market. The construction of new purpose-built holiday accommodation not only creates additional housing stock, it also increases competitive pressure on landlords with AirBNBs as their profitability is eroded and they put their accommodation back on the long term rental market.

When council refuses development applications at the behest of vocal minorities, it’s both blocking new commercial accommodation that would directly relieve pressure on rental housing stock and also forcing developers to consider purchasing residential accommodation and using it on the AirBNB market. This double-whammy has brought the local rental market to its knees. A thriving community requires balance. Too much development is not good, but neither is too little. The current dire rental housing shortage would suggest the pendulum is stuck to one side and we have that balance wrong. It’s supply and demand, not rocket science. If you stop the right kind of development then the supply dries up and demand desperation creates scarcity and high prices. And that’s exactly what’s happening in the local rental market. It will now take some time to redress several years of development malaise and commercial development is a key opportunity. Perhaps now is the time to recognise that new development which increases the stock of commercial accommodation relieves pressure on domestic rental housing at the same time as it supports the visitor economy.

Stop development and you’re as good as cutting off the housing supply. Instead, let’s get behind greenfield developments that incorporate staff housing and affordable housing.

Its hard to approve permits in the face of constant attacks by minority elements in the community that single out council staff and councillors for vitriol when they approve permits. But sometimes you have to do what’s right for the whole community, not just grease the squeaky wheel.  People love visiting our region, and blocking greenfield developments is not going to reduce visitors to the region but rather will accelerate the trend of landlords removing their properties from the long term rental market.  It would be easy to dismiss this warning as self-serving, but if the community and council properly consider the factors contributing to the rental crisis, they could not reasonably fail or refuse to accept the nexus between blocking greenfield development projects and the housing shortage.

David Penman.
Managing DirectorClifftop at Hepburn Pty Ltd