South-west Victoria is in the grips of a housing crisis that has hit every corner of the region, and while the shortage shows no sign of abating, seven of the candidates for Wannon have offered up a range of options they believe will make a meaningful difference.
The Liberal and Labor plans, spruiked by incumbent Wannon MP Dan Tehan and challenger Gilbert Wilson, both focused on helping new homebuyers into the housing market, with Labor proposing a scheme under which the government would become the co-owner of 10,000 new homes each year.
Both candidates also acknowledged the need for social housing, although Labor has committed $10 billion to the cause compared to the Liberals' $2 billion.
The Greens candidate Hilary McAllister placed a much heavier emphasis on social housing, along with a Labor-style shared ownership scheme and expanding rental availability.
Independent candidate Alex Dyson said a rent-to-buy scheme would be a crucial path for those seeking the stability of home ownership. Fellow independent Graham Garner said capping interest rates and putting more money into social housing were his preferred methods.
Liberal Democrats nominee Amanda Mead didn't propose any new social housing, saying scrapping housing subsidies and instituting a flat tax rate would fix the problem. United Australia's Craige Kensen echoed Mr Garner in calling for an interest rate cap and said repurposing unused quarantine facilities would help with the social housing shortage.
Housing availability has been a problem in the south-west for several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic supercharged the crisis, sending house prices sky high and rental vacancies to all-time lows.
Between 2017 and 2020 Warrnambool's housing market rose very slightly, hovering in the low single digits and even dropping in early 2019. But in late 2019 it jumped to an 8.6 per cent rise over the previous year and in late 2020 it surged well beyond 10 per cent, and by September 2021 prices were 25 per cent higher than they had been a year before.
Warrnambool City Council director of city growth Andrew Paton said part of the issue was new residents flocking to the country during the pandemic. But data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests Warrnambool's population actually fell over this period.
One issue may have been the number of houses for sale at any one time, which had been falling steadily from 600 in 2017 to just 200 in September 2021. The lack of listings meant that even if the number of prospective buyers hadn't grown, they were fighting over a much smaller pool of properties.
Compounding the house price problem was a chronic lack of rental properties.
In 2018 Warrnambool's vacancy rate stood around four per cent, which experts say is sufficient to meet demand. Within a year it had dropped to just 0.7 per cent and it has hovered around one per cent ever since.
Similar issues have plagued other parts of the region with Moyne and Corangamite facing even tighter rental markets. The problem has become serious enough that thousands of people who work in the south-west can't find accommodation in the region.
In late 2019 a number of south-west councils banded together to address the issue, investigating ways to encourage new housing development, but senior council officers told The Standard any solution would require significant federal funding and would take many years to implement.
University of Melbourne affordable housing researcher Dr Kate Raynor said investing in social housing would be the best place to start in addressing the crisis.
"That said, building at the moment is a hugely expensive proposition. There is so much demand and getting access to a tradie, and access to materials is really expensive."
She said part of the problem in the south-west may be city-dwellers buying investment properties or holiday homes, because those properties are not used by people who live and work in the region.
"Another thing that we should be seriously considering, and is quite common in other countries, is taxing people who have holiday homes, and living in those homes, at a higher rate so we can start to bring in some money from that. It is having really negative economic flow on effects, and we should be disincentivising it to a degree," she said.
The candidates for the major parties in Wannon focused heavily on housing affordability, rather than availability, in their plans to solve the crisis.
Mr Tehan touted the Coalition's expanded First Home Guarantee scheme, which allows first home buyers to purchase a home with a deposit as low as five per cent, and in some cases just two per cent.
He said the Coalition Government, if re-elected, would offer 10,000 regional places to its guarantee scheme, but he said job creation was vital.
"The best thing our government can do to help people with cost of living or to buy a home is ensure they have a job to pay for their expenses, save for a deposit and pay off a mortgage," Mr Tehan said, despite job vacancies at or near all-time highs in the south-west, while housing vacancies are near all-time lows.
Labor hopeful Mr Wilson spruiked his party's Help to Buy initiative, under which the government would become a part owner of a first home buyer's property, with the buyer only requiring a two per cent deposit.
Mr Wilson said Labor had also proposed a Housing Australia Future Fund, which would build 20,000 social housing properties and 10,000 affordable homes across the country over the next five years.
Ms McAllister said the Greens' vision was much more ambitious, proposing a Federal Housing Trust that would build 750,000 social housing properties, 125,000 shared ownership homes and 125,000 purpose-built rental properties.
While the cost of such a program would run into the hundreds of billions of dollars, Ms McAllister said it could be paid for by taxing billionaires and big corporations.
Mr Dyson said he thought it was premature to talk about major builds without "addressing the cost of housing. He said he would "start with the basics", winding back buying incentives that fuel rising house prices and investing in infrastructure that would encourage developers to build in regional areas like the south-west.
But he said rent-to-buy schemes and more social housing would be the place to start when it came to building new homes.
Ms Mead said the two main housing issues were inflated prices and a lack of housing. She said a flat 20 per cent tax rate would fix inflated prices, although such a policy would overwhelmingly benefit wealthier Australians. She said removing housing subsidies would "unblock the supply side" of the housing problem.
Mr Kensen said the UAP would make the first $30,000 paid on a home loan tax deductible each year and cap interest rates at three per cent for the next five years. He did not address the fact this policy would very likely push house prices higher than they already are.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Now just one tap with our new app: Digital subscribers now have the convenience of faster news, right at your fingertips with The Standard:
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.