Tenterfield is one of 20 NSW areas most in need of more rental properties new research shows, and while it is the only New England town to make the list, a local social housing expert says it is not unique.
Commissioned by national rental reviews platform Rent Rabbit, the research uses vacancy rates and demographic data to identify the suburbs most in need of new rental supply, and ranks them based on their median weekly rent expressed as a share of their average weekly household income.
Maree McKenzie is the CEO of Homes North community housing, she agrees with the research findings and says Tenterfield is just 'a microscope' on what is happening in many regional areas.
And it is inhibiting any post-COVID growth opportunities.
"Those rental pressures really put a brake on a rural community, especially when we're trying to support economic development," Ms McKenzie said.
"In Inverell, it is extremely difficult to find housing as it is in the major centres of Armidale and Tamworth. In Moree it is becoming increasingly difficult because you've got the Special Activation Precinct.
"So yes, you've got the economic development there, but there's not a corresponding housing plan."
Ms McKenzie said 'economically disadvantaged' people are the first to be affected when the demand for housing grows and rents increase.
"They're the first to experience homelessness and that is what we are seeing across the region," Ms McKenzie said.
"There aren't really any systematic strategies being implemented that support affordable housing being developed in regional areas. We need a really coordinated plan around a housing response to support economic development."
These sentiments were echoed by Business NSW Regional Manager Joe Townsend recently.
In an opine submitted to Australian Community Media, Mr Townsend said while the New England North West remains 'a great place to live, work and do business, housing availability and affordability challenges our ability to recruit and retain employees'.
"Prior to the pandemic the New England North West was trying to fill 465 job vacancies, with a rental vacancy rate of 3.8 per cent for prospective new staff or locals to move into," Mr Townsend said.
"Now two-years later, our job vacancies have sky-rocketed to 1,273 while our rental availabilities have contracted to 1.5 per cent according to the Real Estate Institute of NSW."
RentRabbit co-founder Ben Pretty said the rental crisis is one of the biggest issues facing NSW right now.
"For affluent tenants in more privileged suburbs, they at least have more options in terms of where they can live, especially as many of them are knowledge workers who can work remotely," he said.
"But for the many tenants who have low household incomes and who live in socio-economically disadvantaged areas, they're really struggling right now and have very few options."
In response to the recently announced NSW Budget, Ms McKenzie said the problem is not something to be tackled by just one level of government.
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"We had opportunity to support strategies that would open up the development of affordable housing, but there's been no coordinated response to those calls," Ms McKenzie said.
"The federal Labor government are going to deliver 30,000 new social and affordable housing properties over five years, which is a great start and they are committed to developing a national housing plan. But it needs to be a really coordinated approach across all levels of government to support housing development.
"The longer we put this off, the harder it's going to be.
"We've known that housing is getting more expensive in regional areas now for a good 20 years and it's becoming more and more unaffordable."
Developers and superannuation funds should be encouraged to look at long term investment and not just short term gain, suggests Ms McKenzie, and the reliance on mum and dad investors to provide rental properties should change. With a focus on sustainability and affordable living.
"You want to really build up a different investment category, which is a build to rent model," Ms McKenzie said.
"There are indications of that starting in New South Wales but at the moment it's for the higher end of the market and not aimed at lower wage earners.
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"And I think there can be incentives and subsidies that really support the industry to build much more sustainable housing that has lower living costs.
"Not pilot projects or someone's individual desire to build that kind of housing. It needs to become the type of housing we build. Europeans have been doing low energy use housing for decades."
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