Rob Cathcart has been living in a converted 30-bedroom motel for more than six years.
- Echuca house prices have risen by 24 per cent in the past year, above the ABS national average
- Rental prices have increased by 20 per cent
- The University of Melbourne has used the tourist town as a case study to look for an affordable housing solution
Despite working full-time as a cleaner, he has not been able to secure a more suitable rental property to call home.
“What rental in Echuca-Moama?” he said.
“If something comes up, there’s like 30-40 people applying for it.
While Mr Cathcart is grateful for his home at A Room For U, he says the converted-motel room is not a permanent solution.
“It’s a small room — the front of it’s glass, so you’ve really got no privacy,” he said.
“You talk inside and people three doors away or in the car park can still hear you.”
House prices in Echuca have increased by 24 per cent, which is slightly higher that the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ national average annual growth figures.
Rental prices have increased by 20 per cent.
The quarterly PropTrack Rental Report has found weekly rental prices have shot up across Australia, rising 4.7 per cent over the year to March, the strongest annual rate of rental growth recorded since before 2015.
That is because of a lack of stock. The total number of properties available for rent in March 2022 was the lowest since August 2003, falling 4 per cent in March 2022 to be 24 per cent lower than a year earlier.
In March there were fewer than 130,000 total rental listings available. That is a huge 24.9 per cent lower than the decade average, which was about 170,000.
There are simply fewer homes for people to try to rent.
Mr Cathcart is considering moving to Pyramid Hill, where housing is more affordable, and commuting to Echuca-Moama for work.
But he worries about how the younger generation will access the market if the government does not intervene soon.
Smaller houses needed
Sally Hillman has been managing A Room For U for the past 12 months.
When she took over, there were five rooms dedicated to long-term accommodation, but the need for housing began to outweigh the tourism demand in the midst of the pandemic and she converted the other 25 rooms.
“There’s no going back,” she said.
“The waiting list is still half a dozen to a dozen people — it’s full.”
“If someone does leave, [the room] is pretty much filled with the next three to four days.”
Ms Hillman said the demographic of residents in need of a roof over their head had drastically changed.
“There’s one family that we’ve taken on that are in the process of building, but they were looking for about four months for a rental.
“Then you get single families, single parents … because they only have one income, it’s even harder to get on the rental list.”
Ms Hillman said young people lacking family support had also come to her.
“There’s also the older members of the community that have had 20-year rentals,” she said.
Searching for solutions
A University of Melbourne study into housing affordability in the Murray River tourism community of Echuca-Moama has canvassed community views and experiences to better understand the reasons behind the town’s housing crisis.
“Having accommodation that was partly subsidised would really help,” honorary principal fellow Jenny Weller-Newton said.
“Someone I interviewed was in their early 20s and said they’re paying $400 a week rent for a two-and-a-half-bedroom house, which is fairly expensive, and they’re renting with friends … they’re just scraping through.”
Dr Weller-Newton said other suggestions included a village green concept featuring a cluster of houses.
As part of the research, some year 10 St Joseph’s College art students developed 3D models of houses and plans for the town.
Ella Golding said the housing crisis was not something she’d thought of before.
“We’re trying to make a difference about it … by showing what the houses could look like in the future.”
Dr Weller-Newton will present her findings to the National Rural Alliance conference in Brisbane next month.
“What we’ve hoped we’ve developed through doing this research is a template that could be replicated in other regions of Australia,” she said.
“We’re hoping that it might give Homes Victoria some ideas about how they might be able to come up with some contemporary ideas around affordable housing.”
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