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Rates, roads, rubbish and real estate – meet the regional South Australian council tackling its ‘dismal’ rental market head on

Location: Bordertown, South Australia 
Population: 6, 891 (LGA, 2021 Census)

“It’s dismal.” The Tatiara District Council doesn’t hold back when describing the rental situation in south-eastern South Australia. 

Council Chief Executive Anne Champness recounts a story of a local professional recently being forced to live in a tent during winter due to the lack of rentals in the local government area’s biggest community, Bordertown. Ms Champness herself was one of 48 applications for a property back in 2018 – long before many people had started to talk about housing in regional Australia.

The council has identified three key markets looking for rentals in the region: 

  1. Workers needing affordable one-bedroom properties. 
  2. Families after two-to-four-bedroom properties.
  3. Older people living in large houses, who want to downsize but cannot due to the lack of rental homes.

The council is tackling the first market by using the former Building Better Regions Fund to build eight one-bedroom units at its caravan park, at a total cost of $680,000. The first deposit by a prospective tenant was signed off by the council in mid-January.

The council is also working in partnership with Renewal SA on a more than $3m pilot project to deliver a 51-home subdivision of mixed-size lots. It will deliver the subdivision’s enabling works and the South Australian Government will deliver the new homes.  The first stage of the initiative aims to see 15 lots of land released – five will be for key government employees in Bordertown, like teachers and police officers.  The remainder will be targeted at local businesses wanting to build rentals for employees, and the invest-to-rent market.

Ms Champness concedes it’s taken a lot of “bloody hard work” to reach this point, with a strong focus on data to showcase the impact the lack of rentals is having on the region.

“We trust this. We believe housing is absolutely essential for our economy.  Council is not usually in the business of building homes or doing subdivisions but has committed its own resources to make this happen.”

The council is hopeful the new Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) will provide the financial support other LGAs may need to take on similar projects. Ms Champness found the former National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation’s (NHFIC) criteria for accessing support constrained and tied to taking out finance.

“They wanted to allocate their funding in $100m lots and when I’m saying I just need $5m to support infrastructure, it wasn’t even on their radar.  We were just too small.”

Tatiara District Council knows many more rentals will be needed to alleviate the pressure locally, but there is optimism, these projects will help.

Tatiara District Council’s work on addressing Bordertown’s rental situation was highlighted at the National Regional Housing Summit in February 2024.

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