1 February 2023

Wagga councillors debate solution for rental crisis crippling the city and families

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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housing shortage illustration

Wagga Wagga City Council will commission a report into the impact of short-stay accommodation on the city’s housing rental crisis. Photo: Cemile Bingol.

After much deliberation, Wagga Wagga City Council has resolved to commission a report examining the impact of Airbnb and other short-stay models that may be distorting the rental market.

At the first council meeting for 2023, Councillor Richard Foley brought forward the motion to call for a rating option or levy for the Wagga LGA Airbnb and short-stay rental market.

“This is a call for a report to look into the situation about the housing crisis in the city and if Airbnb is playing some role,” Cr Foley said.

“Land releases is a big elephant in the room and a variety of other issues play on high rent.”

Cr Foley said properties were being kept off the rental market and turned into Airbnb and short-stay accommodation.

“I believe it’s unregulated and needs to be looked at,” he said.

“We have a big issue where less than 1 per cent of the rental properties in Wagga are available.

“There’s little over 100 properties in the open markets and 224 on Airbnb which aren’t going out into the community.”

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Cr Foley said he would like to see the general manager write to Airbnb property owners to ask them to consider putting their properties on the open market to ease the crisis, but added he understood the housing and rental distortion was not the fault of Airbnb or the homeowners.

He said he wanted to see what could be done to set up an affordable housing trust in the city.

“We’re heading in a bad way … there’s a whole class of people falling out of the middle class, heading towards precarious living, pay cheque to pay cheque.”

He said the council could play a role in solving the housing crisis and suggested an investment in a large number of tiny houses could be one solution that also generated income.

However, councillors Tim Koschel, Georgie Davies, Michael Henderson and Rod Kendall we’re against the motion.

Cr Koschel said that while he understood there was a problem with the rental market, calling for a rate variation levy was not the solution.

He said there were many ways to solve the issue without penalising Airbnb, including looking into land releases, having a special rate variance, and looking into special rates for infill developments to encourage rental properties not for the short term but for actual accommodation.

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Cr Davies said the council should focus on its core roles to ease the housing shortage by increasing supply through town planning instruments.

“More medium-density zoning and inner-city areas and, where appropriate, rezoning land on the outskirts of our city for new housing development,” she said.

“Creating more affordable housing is a state government issue, and we should call upon our representative, Dr McGirr, to address this on our community’s behalf.”

Cr Davies said the council shouldn’t be taxing people’s investment decisions.

“It’s no different to someone deciding to invest their money into shares or a new business venture,” she said. “Council wouldn’t enforce a levy on such investment options.”

Cr Davies said Wagga also had a short-term accommodation shortage and a levy would just shift the problem.

Cr Amelia Parkins said Wagga Council should be proactive and start working to see what role it could play to alleviate some of the rental shortage pain.

She said Airbnb and other short-term accommodations were necessary for yearly events.

Mayor Dallas Tout said he wanted a report to be compiled on the crisis and acknowledged issues could not be cherry-picked as the solution to the housing woes.

The council resolved to prepare a report considering the impact of Airbnb and other short-stay models on distorting rental markets, affordability, and intensifying housing shortages, and any strategies to mitigate problems that arise.

The establishment of an affordable housing trust will also be considered.

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