Mayor dissatisfied with NSW Government response to housing crisis

27 July 2022

As more than 30 homes re-enter Eurobodalla’s rental market following his letter to non-resident ratepayers, Mayor Mathew Hatcher continues to call on the NSW Government to do more.

It follows “disappointing responses” to the Council’s advocacy around management of short-term rental accommodation, caravan park regulations, and temporary worker housing, all attempts to alleviate the housing crisis in the short to medium-term.

Mayor Hatcher said last week’s responses from the NSW Department of Planning did not inspire confidence.

“While NSW Planning acknowledges the issues, and I do appreciate that, they’re effectively kicking the can down the road,” the Mayor said. “They want to rely on the response to the NSW Housing Taskforce and other components of their recently announced housing package, and while these are worthy pieces of work that need to be done, they are long-term responses that will not give our residents the relief they need now.”

The Council wrote to NSW Planning at the end of June, seeking an expansion of the caravan park regulation that would allow people to stay in a caravan park or campground for up to two years, well beyond the 50-day limit currently legislated.

It follows successful lobbying after the 2019-20 bushfires, when Eurobodalla and other councils pushed for a two-year clause for people displaced by natural disaster or pandemic. Mayor Hatcher says a housing supply crisis should be added to that list, however, NSW Planning disagrees, saying a housing crisis is too difficult to define.

The department also rejected a request to amend planning law that could place a temporary restriction on the number of days dwellings could be used for short-term rentals. The Mayor acknowledged this is a controversial approach to increasing long-term rentals, but said without the availability of a quick regulatory response, it’s not a conversation worth starting with the community.

“Airbnb-style accommodation is important to our shire and many others. However, in a time of crisis having the state government provide the levers to allow a quick, temporary change to regulations would at least make those community conversations worthwhile. At the moment it would take around 12 months to have a planning proposal prepared and approved to permit any change to short-term rental accommodation regulations in Eurobodalla.”

“We can’t wait for the government’s longer-term strategies to take effect. There isn’t a single ‘silver bullet’ solution to this crisis, so we need to accumulate small wins to claw back as much affordable accommodation as we can for our residents.

“I’m frustrated the government can’t see that these small gains are important right now,” the Mayor said.

“We’re in a crisis. And in a crisis anything that can be done should be done to relieve the pressure. These matters are now with the Premier and I hope he sees sense.”

The Mayor also expressed concern that NSW Planning had rejected calls for temporary worker housing attached to the hospital and bypass projects coming up in Moruya, claiming social impact statements prepared ahead of construction starting would address any impacts on “vulnerable or marginalised people”.

“Council’s advocacy letter highlighted an obvious need to provide housing specifically for temporary workers on these projects that could later be used to alleviate ongoing housing shortages,” the Mayor said.

“We’ve lived this already in Batemans Bay with the bridge and the Bay Pavilions. This isn’t only about people facing homelessness as the government seems to think - this is about temporary workers driving permanent workers out of the market.

“These are projects we need and want for our shire, but the government should be thinking and planning now for the strain we already know will be placed on housing. It will be too late when the projects are getting ready to start.”

The Mayor said he intends to revisit this issue with the Minister for Planning.

Meanwhile, Council staff continue to field enquiries from non-resident ratepayers in response to the Mayor’s letter last month, with more than 150 calls and emails responded to so far.

More than 30 property owners have told staff they intend to or already have placed their secondary property in the rental market. The overwhelming majority have been supportive of the approach, even if they couldn’t themselves assist. Ten callers specifically asked to rent their property via a social housing agency and they have been directed to the local team at the NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

“I’ve been blown away with the response,” Mayor Hatcher said. “A simple letter has brought people together to help each other out.”

Last month the Council arranged for mobile shower units to be installed at North Head campground to provide hot showers over winter while options are explored to upgrade facilities. Around 50 people are currently living at the campground.