Housing across the Wimmera is overwhelmed due to high demand and little supply. A regional Australia Institute report found one in five city residents want to make a tree change to regional areas and more than half want to make that move in the next 12 months.
With the rapid growth and large upcoming projects in the region, the Wimmera Southern Mallee may struggle to house the influx of workers and tree changers.
The Wimmera Development Association has recently released a study focused on house and land availability in the Wimmera Southern Mallee.
Wimmera Development Association project manager Mark Fletcher said the study found that there is a shortage of residentially zoned and serviced land for sale across the region. He stated that zoning and planning provisions for future residential development land need to be more ambitious and that incentives are needed for residential development to overcome perceived potentially low returns on investment.
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He said some surprising things from the study was as a region; there is a relatively high level of employers who manage real estate or accommodation for staff members.
"We know there has been stress on the housing sector over the last 12 months in the region and part of the reason we looked at this project was to look at what we need to put in place," Mr Fletcher said.
"These larger organisations are coming up to the region and kicking off in the next few years; they will take up the little bit of slack in the rental market.
"Where does that staff live?"
Mr Fletcher said there are a couple of things Wimmera Development are looking at to support an influx of workers to the Wimmera.
"We need to establish a regional housing task force, which we will manage the process of across the six councils across the Wimmera Southern Mallee," he said.
"We're looking at the planning schemes and master plans of towns to make sure there is land available and that it's ready to go. Make it a bit more attractive to developers."
Mr Fletcher said they would also look into models of community housing groups.
"One would be a public housing type idea and the other one would be more affordable accommodation for workers coming into the area," he said.
"Any of these things, if they get off the ground, they'll take a bit of pressure off the market locally."
The project covered six council areas, West Wimmera, Horsham, Hindmarsh, Yarriambiack, Northern Grampians and Buloke.
"All of those areas have seen an increase of demand and an increase of information being sought by people moving out of metropolitan areas," he said.
"Whether it's tree changers or working coming out, we do have a bit of a shortage across the region and it's something we need to put a plan in place for."
Horsham Council is working towards a structured plan for Horsham South, looking to develop Horsham's area.
Mayor Robyn Gulline said now that people could work from home due to the pandemic, they are moving away from the capital cities to places like Horsham.
"Horsham Rural City has so many job vacancies across all sectors and skill levels. Many business owners that I have spoken to in the last few months have said their businesses aren't operating at full capacity because they are unable to find enough staff. There are countless opportunities for people to advance their careers in the Wimmera, too," Cr Gulline said.
"A great new trend is millennials moving to our area because we want them to become long-term community members. Attracting and retaining new residents, including professionals, is important for our Regional City's prosperity."
Cr Gulline said as more people come to the region and the housing market becomes more competitive, rates should remain unchanged.
"Increases in house prices do not lead to increases in rates as council adjusts the rate in the dollar to compensate for valuation rises." Cr Gulline said.
"Council is currently developing its revenue and rating plan ahead of the 2021-22 budget consultation period and will be available for community feedback in coming months."
Cr Gulline said the council would focus on this new demand on Horsham.
"It is great to see our municipality experiencing high demand from new residents. Demand for housing and tradies has never been stronger. It is also creating challenges for council as we work to improve our core services such as roads and rubbish now and into the future," Cr Gulline said.
"In this year's 2020/21 budget council has committed $3.845 million on rural roads reconstruction, $1.876 million to rebuild urban roads and $3.255 million on waste management.
"One of the areas set to undergo the most change in the coming decades is Horsham South. Council is midway through developing the Horsham South Structure Plan, which will identify a future vision for the area, capturing the community's objectives and aspirations, and determining the planning overlays that will guide and manage future development.
Cr Gulline said community members are encouraged to participate in the development of the 20-year Community Vision.
Uniting Care Victoria
Uniting Victoria manager of client engagement for homelessness services, Louise Smith, said projects across the Wimmera that will bring growth would most likely help those struggling. Still, it will take time to see those results.
"We've had people apply for 20 plus properties with no success," she said.
"We have minimal housing we can use to support individuals and families to the gain independent housing, but they are unable to gain independent housing, and we don't have flow-through of waitlists.
"If we do get an influx, it will make it even harder."
Ms Smith said emergency housing costs have gone up during COVID, and Wimmera doesn't have refuges or many houses, and people may not be able to get to larger centres due to transport issues.
"Any influx to this end of the reason will bring even more issues than we have now," she said.
Ms Smith said Uniting would often use motels to find accommodation for people in need, but as workers return, Uniting found motels were no longer available.
"We just have to keep advocating," she said.
"There are some housing projects coming up, but they take time.
"We have to take it day by day."
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