By Tony Bosworth
We all know housing is an issue in Broken Hill – there don’t seem enough of them, for starters, and if you’re renting it’s a mad scramble to find a place let alone go through all the rental hoops.
And then there are the large new mines soon to start operating, bringing an estimated 7000-plus new workers into our region.
But Mayor Tom Kennedy says Broken Hill City Council are already unrolling strategies to try and address the issues and ensure there is plenty of housing stock available.
Those include potentially opening up surrounding Crown Lands, waiving some development and dumping fees, and encouraging housing developers to come to town.
But first of all there’s some low-hanging fruit, as it were, that could help.
“We have done an audit of the whole city and found 1500 residences unoccupied, so we are in process of putting them on a register and contacting each of the owners of those properties to see if they would be interested in contacting real estate agents or going on a register with the council so if anyone contacts council to buy a property that list is there,” says the Mayor.
The Council has already announced it is set to sell more than 100 blocks of land and properties due to unpaid rates, so if all those go to auction that may well help free the market a touch.
The Council is already looking at a scheme aimed at helping owners if they pull down houses which are not fit for renting or living in. In those instances, Council wants to be able to waive some of the development application fees and the dumping fees, says the Mayor.
“We are also speaking to State and Federal government about opening up land, so Crown Lands is an issue, so we’re looking at that too.”
The Mayor says the Council is also, “dealing with a couple of housing mobs to see what could be done as far as private development goes”.
Mayor Kennedy says the Council is well aware of how bad and how critical the rental situation has become.
“I often hear of stories where people involved with health, for example, are not able to come to the city because there’s no actual accommodation.
“And not long ago I spoke to a reporter who was here for Mad Max and he couldn’t find anywhere, and ended up in a shed.
“So it is really critical and the Council and I understand how critical this is.”
On major new housing developments in the town and its surrounds, Mayor Kennedy says, “It’s going to have to happen. We’ve been in touch with other mining related Councils that are also pushing for 100% fringe benefits tax exemption, which in Broken Hill would allow major developments of housing, and it would mean you’ll be able to buy your house with a pre-tax income as opposed to after-tax, which makes Broken Hill very attractive to invest in locally.”
Investors has been something of a dirty word with some in the community who say they come from out of town, from places like Sydney, and snap up properties, often at inflated prices, so pushing all house prices up.
“Investors won’t be able to do that, [benefit from fringe benefits tax],” says the Mayor, “you will have to live here to do that, so we won’t have investors taking up all the houses.”
People who live in Broken Hill will have an advantage over any investor who’s trying to buy, simply because they will be able to pay off the house with a before tax income rather than an after tax income, he says.
“So that’s really important we get that up,” says the Mayor, “and it’s being pushed by Karratha [Western Australia] who have seen a similar thing there – their rents went up from $200 to around $800 a week. And what that resulted in, was very quickly for businesses to actually compete in the market they were putting coffees up to $11, and that sort of stuff.
“We don’t want that to happen in Broken Hill, so we have to get on top of that as soon as we can to make sure the housing market doesn’t blow out to such an extent that businesses can’t afford to operate and they start to increase all their charges just to cover costs.”
He points out that the current two mines do pay their way, with what he calls “a considerable amount in rates, which is good, some two and a half million dollars a year”.
“The proposed two new [iron ore and cobalt] mines are very heavily committed with Council to open up housing to ensure there is enough housing for people. They also want to make sure it’s a local based employment rather than a fly in fly out situation.
“Both Cobalt Blue and Hawsons are working very closely with Council to help in any way they can to make sure there is enough housing for anyone moving to Broken Hill and working for them.”
The Mayor says the companies and the Council expect around 7000 more people in Broken Hill once the operations get fully underway.
“But once you get up to 7000, anything’s possible,” says Mayor Kennedy, “because it grows itself after that.”