The lights are off – is anybody home?

1 million unoccupied dwellings were counted across Australian on census night last August. This represents a whopping 10% of all housing stock. Of the 1 million dwellings, 300,000 were in NSW. In some local government areas such as Eurobodalla Shire on the NSW South Coast, as described in this media article, as much as 25.4% of its housing stock was empty. That was the highest proportion of any NSW LGA, reflecting its status as a holiday home haven for Sydney and Canberra. Of course, this is a local government area that is still struggling to provides homes to people after the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.

It is difficult to reconcile the extent of unoccupied dwellings homes with the rising levels of acute homelessness and general housing unaffordability. This has prompted calls from some quarters for financial disincentives such as vacancy taxes to be applied. While the jury is out on the effectiveness of these specific tactics we believe the ‘unoccupied homes’ data does support broader calls to address the current taxation and financial incentives that produces this and more general dysfunction and systemic failure in the housing system.

In the meantime we believe local government needs to be supported to respond to these issues. Shelter NSW has regularly advocated, including in our 2021 submission to the Regional Housing Taskforce, for local governments to be supported to establish the necessary controls to balance the need for holiday accommodation and a healthy pool of regular rental accommodation.

We have advocated for example, that all LGAs should be opted into the 90-180 day cap for non owner-occupied hosted Short Term Rental Accommodation without needing to work through the ‘red tape’ of a formal planning proposal to a SEPP.