Photo: Carly Scanes from Complete Property Solutions Yass – outside a house on Plunkett Street which recently attracted 40 applicants
There’s a housing crisis in Yass which has prompted stark observations from those on the frontline of finding desperate families a home.
“I’ve never seen anything like it” summed up rental property manager Carly Scanes from Complete Solutions Yass, after recently showing forty applicants through one home.
“I’m seeing families needing four to five bedrooms applying for one-bedroom homes. They’re looking for anything,” said Ms Scanes.
Daniella’s seven-year search
While Covid and job losses are often cited as obstacles in securing a stable home, personal tragedies can also interrupt the process, whether by being unable to work or change in supportive accommodation.
In 2010 Daniella’s living situation was flipped after a tragic death in the extended family which forced them to decide to relocate for three years, a problem that continues to plague her family due to the instability it caused.
Daniella, her two stepdaughters and her husband’s relocation meant their jobs at the time were lost. Daniella and her husband had another two children together, but their work, health and financial situation were still stressed, resulting in having consecutive moves to different relatives.
“In 2019 we applied for 10 places in Yass, all way over our price range…we brought in Housing and they couldn’t help either, we had to stay with my husband’s mother.”
After slowly working their way out of a health block, Daniella and her family began new work in 2019, and were eventually able to secure a three-bedroom home which was out of their budgeted price range at $350.
“It has been an emotional roller-coaster for the last 11 years, being homeless until last year.”
Daniella describes the house as a financial drain but from experience knows options are few.
“We can’t afford anything around here, even if we applied for a place it would go to a family without pets. Finding a place that accepts animals is a big one as we have a dog and a cat.”
Daniella is still searching “but having no luck. Our rental is almost up, and we have 3 weeks to find another place or stay where we are for another six months.”
Instances such as these shed light on the plight of struggling renters, as it shows how setbacks can last years and the difficulty in seeking appropriate accommodation.
Yass Housing snapshot
The housing squeeze is a widely felt problem across public housing, private rentals and home ownership, and is being experienced not only in the cities but country towns such as Yass which have become increasingly attractive to relocate to since Covid.
The problem largely comes down to opposition of availability and demand, in that while more people need homes and are moving to areas for work and lifestyle, the accessibility and number of homes have failed to meet the market.
Yass Valley Property Owner and Principal agent Andrew Curlewis has observed the pressures include the consistently strong exodus of high earners from Canberra combined with the extra demand from wind-turbine contractors. At least three big companies are now active in Yass Valley looking for homes for their workers and willing to offer above-market prices.
“Yass is full. Those companies have got bigger wallets than the mums and dads and the kids starting out so they’ve put a lot of upward pressure on rents so that’s put a squeeze on accommodation.” Prices have risen 25% “probably over the last two years it’s jumped by that,” said Mr Curlewis.
Contractors involved with industrial wind turbine sites have been cited as securing some 20% of the market.
Yass Valley Property Manager Aimee Mitchell noting several of their recent approvals went to companies.
“It’s quite a competitive market anyway but that’s having a major impact on the market at the moment. In the last eight weeks, we have tenanted fifteen properties and three of those were to companies, the rest were to families. It’s definitely affecting the price as well,” Ms Mitchell noted.
Yass Valley was already considered a tight market by the local real estate industry, but an unprecedented number of applicants entered the local market over the past six months and by early January that unmet demand had created a sense of desperation for some families as 2021 rolled in with still no home to call their own after months of searching.
Ms Mitchell listing the standard prices for a two-three bedroom home as between the very high $300’s to $400, with an overall median for bigger homes sitting at “around $530”. With the same starting money in Canberra getting only a one-bedroom apartment, the attraction of Yass Valley is clear.
Meanwhile, a modest 3 by 1 on Plunkett street owned by experienced landlords Touie and Denise Smith recently attracted 40 applications to Complete Property Solutions Yass; triple the usual field of contenders.
The Smiths are concerned about the competition from temporary workers, squeezing the market and pushing up rents will have a social cost.
“Short term gains by landlords will exclude locals and potential residents from the market which has no long-term gain for our town.”
Denise and Touie also stating they decided to adhere to a reasonable rental price and declined the extra money offered by the turbine contractors.
“Touie’s dad instilled in him that a person should leave enough in any deal for the next person both in business and private.”
This issue is not unique to rentals, as the Yass home buying market is also hot.
“Selling has also gone absolutely bananas, you can’t even buy a home anymore” commented Ms Scanes.
Yass Valley Council has been gauging the extent of the problem for more than a year but is yet to provide an operational housing strategy or release any surplus land under its control.
Council convened a local housing forum last January to inform its Housing Strategy which is expected to be finalised soon. Council drew together twenty community and industry leaders from local real estate agents, social housing providers such as Argyle and Anglicare, aboriginal community representatives and councillors.
General Manager Chris Berry noted “Planning staff have recognised the problem with housing for several years. This was one of the drivers for developing the Yass Settlement Strategy to provide a clear direction on where we want growth to occur and increase residential land supply.”
Mr Berry confirmed Council has previously set zoning areas for multiple housing options such as dual occupancy and units and is currently waiting on proposals from developers.
“For some reason, the local market has not responded to the current demands for housing. Not only are young people who are trying to enter the market having difficulties but people moving to Yass for employment are experiencing similar problems,” said Mr Berry.
Mr Berry speculated as to why Yass was in the development doldrums.
“Perhaps the uncertainty in recent times around employment and job security has been a contributing factor to local builders not wishing to take the risk with building new housing,” said Mr Berry.
And there are few greenfield fronts capable of rapid response to market demand.
“There are only two growth areas for Yass, Yarrah and Hamilton Rise. Stage 1 for Yarrah is progressing through the approval stages (and is aimed at providing more affordable housing sites) but there has been no movement on Hamilton Rise. It has surprised me that local builders are not looking at dual occupancy and small unit developments as a way of meeting some of the current demands,” Mr Berry stated.
Recently released Wellington Estate could prove an agile addition to the solution with Mr Berry advising that developer has just come forward with a response to demand by putting some duplex and villa housing ideas into the mix.
“I believe the developer of the Wellington Road Subdivision has made some preliminary inquiries into these options,” Mr Berry noted.
“But even with this strategy in place, unless the market responds to meet the demand, the current problems will remain. Council itself is not a provider of housing – for Yass, this is largely provided by the private sector and State housing through organisations such as Argyle Housing.”
Yet social housing in Yass Valley has long been left understocked by the state government with a five to ten-year wait, demolishing the hope of many vulnerable families from even applying. They have instead been forced to relocate to towns such as Young which are further away from the pressures of the ACT and state significant infrastructure projects.
An Argyle Housing managed housing site on Pollux Street could eventually provide more social and affordable housing, with just shy of a dozen units lodged as a preliminary development application.
11 townhouses/units in North Yass to replace housing that was burnt down several years ago. Planning staff are waiting on the submission of some design adjustments before finalising the assessment.
Mr Berry identified a key part of how the imminent Yass Valley Housing Strategy could help:
“for additional housing in Yass is converting older housing stock on large lots with increased housing densities.”
A major part of the solution for Yass Valley could literally be in our own, comparatively large, backyards.
What can renters do to stand out in the pack?
Andrew Curlewis from Yass Valley Property advises prospective tenants to treat their rental application like a job application and put their best effort into providing accurate information.
“We are selecting tenants on their ability to pay the rent and their ability to look after the property.”
Fill out the application properly and make sure your referees know to expect a call.
“If tenants pay their rent on time, look after the property and are easy to deal with then we want them as tenants and we will look after them so if their house gets sold, we’ll find them another.”
Be an orderly organised individual (or group, if you are applying as a family or to share a house.) and present as much information as possible, especially references and referees and proof of income such as payslips.
Property Manager Aimee Mitchell advises giving as much information as to good character and ability to care for a property “this is a bonus as we summarise this and give it to the landlords to make their decision.”
Ms Mitchell also advises lodging pre-filled applications even if there are no properties matching your needs just yet.
“Some properties are going without being advertised because we get such a pool,” making it difficult for people who aren’t already known to local agents and rewarding those on the waitlist for their diligence with early notification.