A new report which shows many northern rivers residents are struggling to afford accommodation comes hot on the heels of a federal government injection of $5 million to a Ballina housing project to help home buyers.
And a north coast welfare group says the housing in the area just doesn’t fit the population’s needs, with 75 per cent of housing stock being three-bedroom houses but an increasing population of one- and two-person households.
The 2013 Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot Report, released yesterday, shows that only a fraction of available housing between Port Macquarie and Tweed Heads is affordable for people on low incomes.
Last Friday, Page MP Janelle Saffin and federal housing minister Mark Butler announced the $5 million funding to allow Ballina Shire Council to give buyers a $25,000 rebate on 120 blocks of land at Ballina Heights Estate.
Ms Saffin said the money would help reduce infrastructure costs on the estate, such as stormwater drainage and street lighting, and give low income earners access to more affordable housing.
But a spokesperson for Mr Butler admitted the improved ‘affordability’ of Ballina Heights Estate would not be ongoing as the grant simply provided a one-off windfall for buyers who would capitalise on the rebate when they sold up.
‘I guess that’s the challenge with affordable housing,’ he said.
‘You could make the same arguments about the First Home Owners Grant and pretty much any financial incentives to increase supply of affordable housing.
‘From our point of view, pretty much all of the drivers (regulation, control and ownership) around housing are with either state governments or local governments, so what the federal government has done is to use the limited levers that we do have to try to incentivise the supply of affordable housing both in a rental and a ownership context, so this is one of those levers we can use to target regional areas where housing supply is an issue.’
Anglicare North Coast spokesperson Estelle Graham told ABC North Coast that those worst affected in the struggling to afford accommodation were singles or people on low incomes.
Ms Graham said the regional snapshot looked at the number of properties that were available in the Tweed Heads to Port Macquarie area ‘and then we put them into categories of what were considered to be appropriate and affordable for people on both government benefits and minimum wages.
‘The picture is not at all pretty. On the weekend that we looked there were about 912 properties available for rent,’ she told the ABC.
‘A very small number of those were actually considered to be affordable for people on low incomes.’
The Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) agreed, saying local problems with affordable housing were not just confined to supply and demand.
NRSDC spokesperson Trish Evans told the ABC design was also a factor.
‘Apart from the fact that we have an inadequate supply of housing, the housing that we have doesn’t fit our population, our population is increasingly one and two-person households, but three quarters of our housing stock is three-bedroom houses,’ Ms Evans said.
Ms Saffin said she gave strong support to Ballina Shire Council’s submission for the funding under the Building Better Regional Cities program ‘given the community need for affordable housing and the Council’s great work and planning’.
Ballina mayor, David Wright, said he was pleased with the announcement having already received $4.5 million to build the sporting grounds at the Wollongbar Urban Expansion Area.
‘We originally applied to the minister to do the sporting fields and instead of delivering that over five years it has now been built and we’ve got 96 blocks there being sold at the moment, about 15 to 20 have been sold in the last two months,’ he said.
‘So basically we now get $5 million, we build the infrastructure (at Ballina Heights Estate) and over time we’ll pay back $3 million so we’re $2m better off, plus the community’s got infrastructure up front, and it costs us nothing in interest, so it’s a win-win situation.’
Cr Wright said the scheme had strict criteria to prevent developers or investors benefiting from the rebates.
‘There is a very particular criteria that has been developed by the council and the federal government to stop people ripping off the system; so you can’t buy a speccy (investment property) for example,’ he said.
‘The rebate is the equivalent of Section 94 and Section 64 money that council would normally collect off the block – so developers are not getting any extra, except more sales I hope.’