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Robe holiday home ownership creates housing crisis for workers – ABC News

Robe holiday home ownership creates housing crisis for workers
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When JJ Aitken returned to his family property in Robe last year to run a short-term accommodation business, he didn't imagine it would be so difficult to find a place to live.
Mr Aitken said there was a lot of irony in his situation.
"I was asked to leave the house I was renting because the owner was going to make a fortune out of selling it on the spot," he said.
"So I happily moved back to Robe.
"But as somebody that owns a guesthouse in Robe and runs short-term rental accommodation for other people, I live in a shed.
"There was nowhere for me to rent, I couldn't buy anything because I'm completely priced out of the market, and you're waiting two or three years for a house to be built.
Census data has revealed a million houses are sitting empty in towns where, just metres away, working families live in tents.
"I'm right in the middle of how silly this whole thing is."
Rapidly selling investment and holiday homes has contributed to the current rental crisis, leaving workers unable to find accommodation.
The latest census data showed 59 per cent of Robe properties were vacant – the third-highest rate in the country.
"A lot of people have been in a position to own a second home or a third home," Mr Aitken said.
"They have gobbled up everything that's been able to be gobbled up in this town.
"Anybody that I speak to that has a job here, whether it's waiting tables, making coffee, running a shop, cleaning … find it impossible to find a house permanently."
Mr Aitken said it was "really sad".
"I've got good friends that have lived here for over 10 years, that run businesses in town, that are still bumped out of their houses in November or December because the owner wants it for a month," he said.
But Mr Aitken said the town's vacant property rate had always been high, it was just more noticeable now.
"I can remember being here three decades ago in the middle of winter, and when you went for a walk at night, you could walk down two or three streets and see one or two houses with lights on," he said.
"There are just that many more houses being built in Robe [now], more people choosing to call it a second home, that it looks a lot more obvious, a lot more saturated."
Mr Aitken said the finger should not just be pointed at short-stay accommodation apps like Airbnb.
"Airbnb does account for obviously a decent percentage of short-term holiday rentals in a place like this, but it's definitely not all of it," he said.
"This time of the year, with my business, Airbnb might account for 20 per cent of who I deal with.
"It's the go-to name to blame the situation on but it's definitely not the whole problem."
Mr Aitken said it was unusual the small community could not come up with some solutions for the problem.
"People love to talk about what's not working, and someone usually comes up with an idea that sounds pretty sound, or a tangent to go off on," he said.
"I haven't heard a single person come up with a reasonable idea on how to solve this."
But Mr Aitken said something needed to be done to help alleviate housing pressure before it got worse.
"[In a few years] there may be no one here that is going to cook your food," he said.
"There's not going to be anybody here to make your coffee, to serve you at a table, to clean your house, or do any of those things that really equate to a hell of a lot of why you come to Robe.
"What do you do? You can't tell people what they can and can't do with their future and their money and choices.
"This year we saw some restaurants in town close in the middle of January for weeks at a time because there was no one here to serve tables and wash dishes.
"So it's already started, and God knows where it could go."
District Council of Robe chief executive James Holyman said the town's high rate of vacant properties was not surprising.
"It's broadly in line with our 2016 census, where two-thirds of the properties in Robe were unoccupied," he said.
"It's great as a tourist town to have lots of people come into town, but it's really important we have people in the service industries that can support them when they're here.
"I'm aware of a business owner, for example, who essentially slept on his verandah so he could provide his own house for workers in town."
Mr Holyman said the limited rentals had caused headaches for local businesses looking for staff.
"Between 1st February 2021 and the 21st of March 2022, we've had 156 [job] vacancies, of which about 45 per cent are in the hospitality industry," he said.
"We are aware of a number of businesses who have given up advertising because they haven't been able to attract people.
"Affordable accommodation is the common factor in attracting and employing people in Robe."
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