Tackling housing supply in the Bega Valley

club sapphire apartments main street merimbula

It’s hard to dispute evidence that indicates housing availability in the Bega Valley is in short supply.
House prices across the shire have increased by nearly 11.85% in the past year and median rental prices currently sit at $390 per week, a 15.86% rise in the past 12 months. Individual towns, such as Merimbula have seen even more significant growth.

It would be easy to suggest that these prices are being pushed up by people moving from the city and snapping up properties for investment or holidaying, but the issue is much more complicated than that. We need to look at the problem holistically if we are going to understand how to solve the issue and provide both short and long-term solutions to manage the Bega Valley’s population.

The Merimbula Chamber of Commerce has been tackling these issues after they were highlighted at the Town Summit earlier this year. The Chamber set up a sub-committee to help identify ways that they could contribute to improving the situation. They have been working with local stakeholders and Government to tackle the issues and have identified 8 different areas that can help boost housing supply in the Bega Valley.

  1. Change local zoning regulations
    This is already underway. The Bega Valley Shire Council changed planning rules in May 2021 to allow an extra dwelling (e.g. granny flat) on rural land without the need to subdivide or pay about $10,000 in Developer Contributions.
    Council also wants to encourage duplex and unit development by reducing the minimum lot size. The exhibition period for the proposal closed on September 19, 2021 and a decision is likely to be finalized in the near future.
  2. Approve larger scale residential development
    At least three major unit developments across the Bega Valley are approved or working their way through planning processes. In all, that will provide about 300 one to four bedroom homes. These complexes won’t be built in a day but are all within walking distance of town CBDs and are estimated to inject more than $50million into the local economy in the construction phase alone.
    These include the Club Sapphire and Santorini apartments in Merimbula and Sapphire of Eden.
    A number of land subdivisions have also been developed during the past 5 years including Bellbird Ridge in Merimbula, Kooringal Estate in Kalaru and Sapphire Cove in Bermagui. More subdivisions of rural and village land are also coming online..
    There are many smaller subdivisions and multi-unit developments on the drawing board as well.
  3. Encourage holiday owners to permanently rent their properties
    In the past 18 months, this would have been particularly attractive as absentee owners haven’t been able to visit their holiday homes or rent them out to tourists. Holiday rental specialist, Jo Thorpe, from Getaway Merimbula says many owners have welcomed the chance to put in some permanent tenants and receive regular income, as opposed to the unreliable holiday rental income caused by Covid Lockdowns and border closures.
    “Many holiday owners have a mortgage and so need rental income,” Ms Thorpe says. “Some tenants have been happy to pay a bit extra for a fully furnished house that includes the cost of electricity/gas, water and internet.”
  4. Support Not-For-Profit Organisations
    There are many organisations in the Bega Valley supporting individuals and families with transitional and crisis accommodation as well as social and affordable housing. For example Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast have acquired nearly 85 caravans to house bushfire & domestic violence victims as well as homeless people.
    Co-Chairman Mick Brosnan is frustrated about the lack of transitional and crisis housing & social and affordably housing action by all levels of government but says the community can help by donating time, money and resources to SJASC’s “It’s Up to Us” campaign.
    He told the Merimbula News Weekly that “while he recognises that one transitional unit will not solve the problem, he believes that they have to start somewhere.”
    “Something’s got to change. This is our problem and I am confident our community will rise to the challenge.”
  5. Encourage low rent Private Investment
    Former Bega Valley business owners Ann & Graeme Wykes are one couple who think they can make a difference. Like other quiet achievers, they’ve bought three small units within walking distance of town and rent them out to people at below market rent.
    “We just think it’s the right thing to do”, says Ann. “We’ve lived in the Bega Valley for more than 40 years and are grateful to be in a position to give back.”
    “And we’re not the only people doing it,” she says. “It’s wonderful to be part of a behind the scenes movement that’s helps our community.”
  6. Bring Investors back into the market
    Covid uncertainty has caused investors to abandon the housing market in the past 18 months with many selling to owner-occupiers instead. Fisk & Nagle Sales Director, Elvi Di Donato says this has been a major driver of the Bega Valley housing shortage with approximately 300-400 properties no longer available for rent.
    “The good news is that investors are coming back into the market because they can get a better income than bank interest rates. Bega Valley prices also haven’t risen anywhere near as much as other regions so are more affordable for landlords,” Mr Di Donato says.
    “Owner-occupiers still need to upsize, downsize and re-locate so I’m expecting they’ll be quite happy to sell at a high price to investors with cash.”
  7. Release more land
    The Bega Valley is overflowing with state-owned land that could be released for a range of housing development including social, owner-occupied and investment housing. Local Aboriginal Land Councils also have access to areas that could be developed for Koori economic and housing development. And private developers have “land banked” swathes of acreage for future residential subdivision.

    The issue is that although much of this land is zoned for residential housing, it is not “development ready”. That is, it lacks infrastructure such as roads and water/sewer systems and is constrained by environmental and indigenous cultural considerations as well as local council budgets.

    In a recent report, the NSW Government Regional Housing Task Force assessed how to “unblock this latent supply” to improve housing diversity to build the homes that people need.
  1. Demand more State & Federal Government intervention
    There’s only so much local government and communities can do to address the more entrenched issues around housing.

The Merimbula Chamber of Commerce and Bega Valley Shire Council are lobbying both State and Federal governments to improve housing affordability and availability across the shire. This includes seeking increased funding from the National Housing Finance & Investment Corporation.

Of course, residents can also put pressure on all levels of Government. Council elections are coming up in November, there will be a State by-election shortly and a Federal Election for the seat of Eden-Monaro is also due by May 2022.

Bega Valley residents live in a highly marginal federal electorate and their votes count.

Merimbula Chamber President, Nigel Ayling says “Obviously there is only so much we can do as a Chamber but if we work with all the stakeholders and Government we can continue to lobby, be a voice for the community and raise these concerns. These are big issues to tackle and the results won’t come quickly. Housing is just 1 part of our 10 point action plan, but we realise the effect it has on the social and economic development of the area.”