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Riverland jobs aplenty but housing hard to find

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Housing shortages in the Riverland are forcing prices up and creating problems for people hoping to move to the region to access booming job opportunities.

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Real estate agents in the area say properties are being sold before they’re advertised, while a lack of rental accommodation is preventing people from taking up hundreds of jobs on offer.

Regional Development Australia (RDA) has been tracking the shortfall in rental accommodation across the Riverland as part of a policy report due to be released in coming weeks.

Murraylands and Riverland RDA Manager Vanessa Leigh said the limited housing was one of the largest hurdles to filling job vacancies, with the organisation finding only 25 rentals available in the Riverland last month, while advertised jobs in the area exceeded 800 over the past three months.

She said the region’s strained rental accommodation was one of the largest hurdles to filling positions in the area.

“There’s a lot of promotion going on in Adelaide for job seekers to look towards regional employment but one of the biggest barriers is their accommodation, so there’s a lot of limitations in being able to bring people to the regions to take up the jobs because the housing isn’t available,” she said.

“There has been a steadily declining availability of rental houses. It’s pushing house prices upwards.

“There’s hope that there’ll be new housing developments, but that will take time and is unlikely to help in the short term.”

It follows the arrival of 360 Pacific Island fruit pickers into the state to assist with the critical shortage of seasonal agricultural workers, with the State Government last month saying it had made a “significant push to encourage unemployed locals to take up fruit picking this year, but unfortunately not enough people have answered the call”.

As part of the $7 million seasonal worker program, which is being jointly funded by the Marshall Government and agricultural industry, the first of the 1200 workers are being housed in a regional COVID-19 quarantine facility in Paringa before they are moved to accommodation arranged by their employers.

“South Australia’s primary industries are worth $14.1 billion a year to the state economy and with citrus season upon us it is critical we deliver a safe solution to fill our seasonal worker shortages to ensure our state’s crops are harvested,” Primary Industries and Regional Development Minster David Basham said.

“If fruit doesn’t get picked it would have devastating impacts across the entire supply chain which is why these workers are needed now.”

Elders Riverland Sales Manager David Kanizay said in the past 12 months overall, properties on the market in the area had dropped from more than 600 to about 310, which was a further significant decline from the more than 900 houses available in the area in 2012.

“It doesn’t matter what the market segment is, whether it’s rural, commercial or residential we’ll generally have buyers who we’re aware of and we’ll flesh them out before we go to the open market,” he said.

“With a lot less stock and high demand, the days on market have really fallen off. Traditionally in the Riverland, our average days on market would be about 120, or about four months, whereas today’s average days on market is half that now.”

Kanizay said there appeared to have been about a 10 per cent rise in residential house values in the area over the past 12 months, flipping what has been a buyers market for the past decade on its head.

He said the increase in demand was not limited to sales, with rentals being snatched up without being advertised.

AnglicareSA last week released its annual Rental Affordability Snapshot, which found of 1788 properties private rentals advertised on realestate.com.au in South Australia on March 26, none were affordable and appropriate for single people reliant on the federal government’s JobSeeker payment as their main source of income.

Across single South Australians on welfare payments, only 17 properties were affordable and appropriate.

A spokesperson for the organisation said the trend was a long-time coming.

“What’s been happening in our cities is now being replicated in the regions,” he said.

“In regional areas such as Mount Gambier and the Riverland where we manage around 200 community housing properties, we have noticed more people coming from interstate, such as Melbourne, and the housing capacity to accommodate them is close to breaking point.

“This is causing a lack of rental opportunities for locals who are unemployed or on low incomes, meaning we’re having to support people in social housing for longer periods of time.

“A slower turnover rate in social housing means less vacancies for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.”

Regional housing organisation ac.care echoed AnglicareSA’s comments, saying the worsening rental situation was pushing some of the state’s most vulnerable out of the running for the few properties that had been available for rent.

The Real Estate Institute of South Australia (REISA) pointed to the move towards working from home, brought about by the coronavirus, and the flow-on effect of an Adelaide housing boom as two key drivers for the state’s accommodation crisis.

“After COVID there’s been a move towards a hybrid approach to working at home and going into work and what that’s done is it’s allowed people to live away from the CBD and dial into work,” REISA CEO Barry Money said.

“So people who may not have previously been able to live in the regions are choosing to because they have a better lifestyle and can still work. Therefore, that’s put a little pressure on the regional market.”

He said city homeowners were also adding to their property portfolios by investing in the regions, enticed by low interest rates and strong rental returns.

Real estate group Raine & Horne said property values in Port Lincoln had risen by 10 per cent since September, with demand for second homes and weekenders pushing up prices.

General manager James Trimble said city homeowners were using the equity in their first house to invest in a second property for holidays and retirement in towns such as Port Lincoln.

“There is already evidence that some Adelaide downsizers are putting these long-term plans into practice,” he said.

“Demand for maintenance-free lock up and leave townhouses and apartments in Adelaide is collecting speed as some empty nesters recognise they can share their time between their homes in the city and the many picturesque regional towns in South Australia.”

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