Editorial May 12th 2023
Welcome to this week’s editorial, Facts are interesting when you look at them, especially when combined together with others to offer a wider perspective, and to even contribute, or sway, a possible outcome. The 2021 Census told us that, on census night, there were 40,593 residents comprising 11,318 families. Note: 2016 figures
source On that night there were 16,603 occupied houses, and most interestingly there were 6226 unoccupied private dwellings. Empty, no-one there. Maybe there were locals who had gone away for winter, but then most likely they were holiday houses and short term rentals waiting for summer to come around again. The interesting thing about that figure is that, comparing apples to apples, on Census Night 2021 a total of 27.3% of our houses were empty, compared to the NSW average percentage of 9.4% Source: https://www.abs.gov.au/census/find-census-data/quickstats/2021/LGA12750 Now we need to get this in context. Census night in 2021 was a Tuesday on the 10 August 2021. Days in August that year were around 18C, and overnight around 4.5C. There would have been very few holiday makers. From these figures one might therefore conclude that the vacant houses were indeed Short-term stay accommodation or family holiday homes. We learnt more in June 2022, Council reported that there were 8,500 non-resident ratepayers who owned houses in the shire. Without doubt some of those are rented out permanently as investment properties, but to learn that on Census night there were 6226 vacant houses indicates that there is a considerable number of non-resident ratepayer properties that are holiday homes and short stay rentals. In June 2022 the Eurobodalla Mayor, Mat Hatcher, said that some councils around the country, like Brisbane and Byron Bay, are using the regulations available to them to push holiday rentals onto the permanent rental market by reducing the days they can be available for holiday stays, but that he wanted the NSW Government to take the lead. New NSW Planning rules introduced last year now require owners of residential accommodation, who rent out their property temporarily for commercial gain, to register their property and pay an annual registration fee via the NSW Planning Portal. This move is to ensure the rentals and hosts are accountable to their tenants and to the adjacent community. Additionally it comes with a complaints register and the bonus that occupancy rates are recorded and rental income is cross linked to the taxation department. Presently, according to the website AirDNA, there are 1224 active, registered, short term rentals in Eurobodalla. That means that there are still a swag of unregistered Short term rentals and holiday houses out there. Eurobodalla, like the rest of the country, is suffering a housing crisis. We don’t have houses to accommodate our own workers, from baristas to doctors. There is ample employment opportunity, but no where to live. If you then add the inflation, low wage growth and the mortgage rate rises to the equation you soon discover increased rents driving affordable housing out the window. So what to do? In 2022 Eurobodalla Council pleaded to owners of holiday homes and short term rentals to consider renting to permanents. There was a positive initial response but not response enough to solve an ever growing problem. We now have a new Labor State Government who have inherited a housing crisis. A crisis where there are not enough affordable houses available for our fixed waged labour force needs. The crisis across the State and across the South East will require some applied thought to find a solution. One option is to put a spotlight on the known. In the case of Eurobodalla the known is the short-stay properties that are listed on the short-term rental accommodation (STRA) register. All local councils in NSW have access to the STRA Register and have a role in enforcing the planning rules, including reporting an unregistered STRA premises and enforcing a STRA Fire Safety Standard, covering such things as smoke alarms, emergency evacuation information or fire extinguishers. Councils also have access to the register to review ongoing neighbourhood noise complaints. While the Register might make short stay rentals safer and more accountable the bonus for Councils and agencies is that it records rental nights and links the property income to the taxation authority. The risk is therefore on the client if they choose to stay in an unregistered property.
So what would you do if you were a Eurobodalla councillor? What if you had a housing crisis, that there are few rentals, there was high unemployment and a higher proportion of the shire living in rental accommodation on fixed incomes, knowing that every week you have more and more drifting into homelessness? If you were a councillor would you consider placing pressure on those 6226 unoccupied private dwellings of the 2021 Census? How might you do it? For a start you would have access to the STRA Register. You could immediately move to rate those properties with a Business Rating, after all they are a business like any warehouse or shop front, generating income from their services. That single move would put pressure on Short stay rentals to consider moving across to permanent tenancy. Can this be done? Victoria is doing it. The next option would be to support, at a NSW Planning level, the constraints of maximum rental days per year for those 1224 active, registered, short term rentals in Eurobodalla. Maybe 180 days per year? Maybe the maximum of 60 days per year, as suggested by the Independent Planning Commission for Byron Shire. That might encourage short term rentals to consider their long term options. Surely if there were more permanent rentals on the market the market place would see a downturn in expected weekly rents. Also there would be fewer investment properties purchased to take advantage of the current lucrative short stay market. This too might help to keep prices down. But it isn’t just the housing crisis that will drive our Eurobodalla councillors to consider their options. Eurobodalla Council is facing financial stress. All that was once reported as rosy ain’t so rosy. Council reported at its last meeting “Similar to most councils throughout the state and indeed the nation, Council faces significant financial challenges in the coming years. Cost of living pressures affect local government just as they do households. It is more expensive to build things, to maintain them, and to run the services our community expects. In March 2023, Councillors and senior staff spent two-half days reviewing the Council’s financial situation to identify a path forward for the shire in response to these challenges”. In a nutshell Council needs more money from Us. That will come by way of increased fees and charges, increased rates while selling assets, and rationalising delivery of services, reconstructions and renewals. One place Councillors can look, and most likely will look, is the opportunity to gain more rates from commercial short term rentals suggesting that the move is to improve housing availability. What would you do if you were a councillor in a region that runs on tourism and needs its holiday houses and short term rentals? Mayor, Mat Hatcher brings balance to the argument telling the Bay Post (May 12th 2023) that short-term rentals are “an essential part of the economy on the South Coast.
"The money flow from the tourism sector is what keeps this place going every year, so we can't simply shut off the tourists from coming here," he said.
"We don't have enough hotels for the tourists who want to come here. We need short-term rentals and we need to look after locals.
"We should not penalise a young family from Canberra who wanted to come down here and buy a holiday house and use it half the year and spend their money while they're down here." If you have a solution to the looming financial crisis and the housing crisis then be sure to write to the Council. Meanwhile we will continue to flounder between a rock and a hard place. Until next lei
Above: .... and work out ways of adding more rate charges to residents by way of little loopholes that charge $900 per year to anyone who has a granny flat or charging two water connection fees to a single premise that has one inlet. The list goes on and most of the little changes drift past most of our councillors who are at best, asleep at the wheel. Listen to Nick Walton present to the Councillors on May 9th 2023 HERE - and note the failure of any questions from attending Councillors.