Balancing housing affordability and growth and development is one of the most significant issues for the local community.

Rents are rising rapidly. Recent research shows that Melbourne has seen a 23 percent increase in average rents over the past 12 months. Locally, rents have increased by 50 percent over the past 10 years and average rents are nearly $300 a week. At the same time the population is growing (up 8% in 5 years), rental availability is declining and interest rates are increasing.

There are 9477 private homes in the Shire. Most have three bedrooms or more. The most recent Census shows that 2008 are unoccupied (21%), twice the Victorian average. Around ten percent of homes in the Shire are listed on short stay accommodation websites. There are 500 short stay rentals in Daylesford, up by 10 percent since 2019.

Without enough affordable housing some people end up sleeping in cars, caravans and tents. More broadly, businesses find it hard to attract staff when their workers can’t afford to live locally.

But for communities like Daylesford and Hepburn Springs there is a delicate balance between attracting the overnight visitors that drive the local economy and providing enough affordable housing to keep the business and local services, including health and aged care, going.

The development of a strategy and action plan for affordable housing is a key output of the Council Plan 2021-25 to create a healthy supported and empowered community.

Local group Safe Place Homes has been campaigning for more affordable housing for a number of years. A spokesperson for the group, Mary-Faeth Chenery welcomed the release of the discussion paper and community consultation.

In announcing the consultation strategy, Shire Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie said, “Our Shire is a wonderful place to visit, but it is also a wonderful place to live. Unfortunately, the lack of affordable housing means fewer people are able to make our Shire their home.”

“This affects people on lower incomes but also those in key jobs that we need to support our services and local businesses like hospitality, tourism, farm workers, nurses and other carers,” said Cr Drylie.

Council has released an issues and options paper outlining data on local housing, and approaches that may help to address the short supply of affordable housing.

“Most factors that drive housing affordability and the availability of housing are outside the direct control of local government and sit with State and Federal Government and the private sector,” said Cr Drylie.

However, there are some things councils can do such as advocating on behalf of the community, using the planning system, creating incentives and bringing key partners together.

Council is looking to hear from everyone about their ideas and experiences. This includes people who own or rent a home in the Shire, business operators, people who are looking to live here, or those who have had to leave due to a lack of housing options.

Local businesses and accommodation providers have a key stake in the development of the strategy.

Brendan Hutchinson, Director of accommodation service Daylesford Country Retreats, said “Short term accommodation businesses like ours are a driver of employment in the area, and in the majority of cases the type of accommodation on the short term holiday market in Daylesford is at the medium to expensive to luxury end, so has a limited impact on the affordable housing stock”

“We employ many locals. Some travel from outside the area but would prefer to live here, if affordable density housing where available. The world is changing and we need to offer people, especially young people the ability to rent affordable medium density housing. Developers need incentives to build affordable accommodation. Council should support them to do so.”

There are a number of options that Council could consider to balance visitor demand, long term rental needs and affordable resident accommodation. These include increasing the supply of housing by increasing the town boundaries, relaxing restrictions on housing density, and putting limits on the availability of short stay accommodation. Council could also develop partnerships to build affordable housing, particularly for those on the lowest incomes.

A number of other Councils around Victoria and Australia have already taken action. For example, Dorset Council in Tasmania and Brisbane Council have increased rates for short stay providers. Byron Bay is limiting the number of days short stay providers can rent their properties out each year.

Hepburn Shire Council is inviting the community to help to guide a strategy and action plan to increase affordable housing availability across the Shire.

Council will hold an online webinar from 5pm to 6pm on Wednesday 16 November to discuss the themes of affordable housing and how people can be involved in the project.

A survey is also open until Sunday 4 December, and pop-up sessions will be held over coming weeks in Creswick, Glenlyon, Clunes, Trentham and Daylesford.

Information on the project is available at Council’s Participate Hepburn website at Printed surveys and the issues and options paper are also available at Council libraries and hubs.

Council will also host an Affordable Housing Solutions Forum in February 2023, with community members able to register their interest to attend.