This week, four years ago, a motion was debated to pause the spread of short-stay accommodation in residential zones across Tasmania. The motion was lost in part because the Government committed to “the delivery of 900 new homes by the end of June 2019”. Recently published data from the Productivity Commission shows that there was an increase of 959 social housing households between 2018-2021. This comprised 721 new social housing properties in 2018, 279 in 2019 and there was a loss of 41 properties in 2020. That’s an average of 319 each year over those three years. In the same period, the social housing waiting list increased from 3330 to 4144 applicants. The wait list continues to grow and currently sits at 4382 applicants.
Another reason that the motion was lost was because of the Government’s commitment to “continue to monitor the situation using proper evidence and data”. Four years later, all available evidence shows that the growth of short-stay accommodation has had a negative impact on long-term rental stock across Tasmania, with only vested interests arguing otherwise, yet the Government’s policy towards it has not changed.
In February 2020 the House of Assembly Select Committee on Housing Affordability found that the increase in short-stay accommodation had led to a decrease in private rental properties, which in turn, had resulted in higher rents. For example, over the last five years rents have increased by 27 per cent in North-West Tasmania, by 45 per cent in Greater Hobart and by 49 per cent in Launceston. Incomes for many people, particularly low-income households that are more likely to rent, has remained stagnant over the same period, meaning that more and more Tasmanians are struggling to deal with the rising cost of living. Alarmingly, Corelogic recently published data which highlighted that that median rents in Hobart ($532pw) are higher than Adelaide ($464), Melbourne ($468), Perth ($496) and Brisbane ($523). As Tasmanians have the lowest median income of any State or Territory in Australia it is no surprise that relative to income Tasmania is the most expensive place to live in Australia.
The Select Committee on Housing Affordability also found that in areas of regional Tasmania that are in high demand by tourists, short-stay accommodation has become a high proportion of the available housing stock. This has meant that it is more difficult for hospitality and tourism providers to run their businesses as essential workers are priced out of the local market. In a recent ABC story, the President of the Bicheno Community Development Association Tony McLeod was quoted as stating: “We see every other week a house gets sold, where a family used to live. And straight away an investor has bought it and it goes onto the short-term market.”
Finally, peer-reviewed research carried out by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute has found that pre COVID-19, around 12 per cent of the private rental market in the Hobart City Council municipality had been converted to short-stay accommodation. And that the return of a mere 100 properties to the long-term rental market during the pandemic had seen rents decrease by nine per cent.
The sharing economy should be just that, the sharing of an empty room or rooms in your principal place of residence. Instead, we have almost 500 investment properties in the Hobart City Council municipality alone that have been converted to short-stay accommodation.
Four years after the Government voted against greater regulation of the short-stay accommodation sector it is time for a re-think. If the Government is serious about easing cost of living pressures and providing housing for those that need it now, it will commit to urgent reform. At the very least, the Government must commit to an immediate pause on any new investment properties being converted into short-stay accommodation until everyone has a home.
Benedict Bartl is the Principal Solicitor with the Tenants’ Union of Tasmania
This opinion article was published in The Mercury on 17 June 2022.