Local business leaders Will Walton (Belle Real Estate), Brendan Hutchinson (Daylesford Country Retreats) and Steve Wroe (Daylesford Macedon Tourism) have met with  the Council Chief Executive Bradley Thomas and Damien Kennedy (Acting Manager Strategic Planning) to discuss the development of the Hepburn Shire Affordable Housing Strategy and made a series of suggestions to tackle local housing issues in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs.

The Council is developing a strategy and action plan to address affordable housing issues. It published an options paper in October to kick off discussion and a community community survey closed on the 15th of December. A forum to develop, refine and test the strategy is planned for February.  Then a draft will be prepared and consultation on the draft is planned for March with a final document to be adopted by Council in May.

The business leaders who met with Council recognise the problems and proposed a mix of solutions. They pointed out that the challenge of providing affordable housing for a desirable location and growing community have emerged over a generation and that the strategy that Council develops should focus on the future and the needs of the next generation. Continuing with more of the same is not the solution.

There is broad recognition that a number of housing issues face the local community. Daylesford and Hepburn Springs are attractive holiday and life style destinations. Demand for housing has grown dramatically, particularly post COVID. But the local supply of land has not. As a result, house and land prices have jumped over the past five years, making it difficult to buy reasonable quality, affordable accommodation.

Neither is renting easy. The local rental market is mainly for workers on lower incomes. The high cost of property and recent changes to rental rules by the State government have made affordable long term rentals unprofitable. As a result affordable long term rentals  are hard to find locally.

For Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, the upside is a vibrant and growing local economy, particularly in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Daylesford is an attractive place to live, work and visit.

The downside is that accommodation costs are high for the workers needed for a growing community. Many local businesses are currently restricting their growth and operating hours because they can’t get staff.

 There are also a number of people on pensions and fixed incomes that need accommodation to continue to live in the area.  Add to that older people who want to down size to more manageable accommodation now that the kids have left home.

While Council does not control all the levers, it has a number of options and it is interested in hearing from the community through a consultation process about possible solutions .

Options include relaxing planning rules to encourage more mixed development, increasing the supply of land and putting limits on the short term rental market.

Not surprisingly, accommodation and tourism businesses are wary of proposals to limit short term rentals. These have now been widely canvassed and introduced in New South Wales.

In part, it has been argued that setting an annual cap on the number of nights properties can be used for short term rentals will free up properties for longer term rentals.

But accommodation, tourism and real estate interests point out that many of the properties on the short term market in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs are either high end or unsuitable for affordable housing.

They are also wary of local initiatives that would have a significant impact on hospitality and retail businesses. They point out that the Victorian government is considering these issues and that it would be better for Hepburn fall in with a state wide approach.

Business leaders are arguing for a more flexible approach to development that would balance the need to protect local character with the need for broader range of housing options to meet future demands and needs.

This would see more smaller units for the longer term rental market and for people who want to down size. The current heritage and character would need to be adjusted to make it viable to build smaller scale units for these purposes. 

Real estate agents report there are regular requests for access to independent living in retirement villages from older people. Retirement villages often include facilities such as heated pools, cinemas and recreational facilities that could be shared with the community.

While there are concerns about expanding the town boundaries at the expense of farming land, not all of the land on the town boundaries is suitable for farming and it is argued that some of these properties could be rezoned for for housing growth over time.

A growth plan could also require developers to include affordable housing options in larger scale developments.

Some needs, particularly for housing for people on very low incomes are difficult to meet through private market solutions. Council could partner with community housing associations and the state government to develop area wide affordable housing to address these needs. Council and the state government have land they could contribute and housing associations have the expertise to manage rental properties.

These options will be considered in the new year as part of the community forum and consultation process.