The federal government should fund prefabricated homes, ask AirBnb owners to put their properties back into the rental pool and increase public housing by tenfold to stem the growing regional housing crisis, experts say.
All options were on the table at the National Rural Press Club, as a panel put forward their solutions to the rural housing shortage.
Regional rental vacancies sit at just 0.1 per cent, well below the desired 3pc, which is exacerbating other rural issues such as labour and skills shortage, and health and education services.
Anglicare executive director Kasey Chambers said even if people could find a rental in regional Australia, they struggled to afford the rent, which had increased between six and nine per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anglicare's regional housing affordability survey found on the NSW North Coast, only eight per cent of listings were affordable for a couple working full-time on minimum wage with two kids, while in regional Queensland, only nine of the 397 listings were affordable for a couple with two children on JobSeeker.
"We do not see affordable housing in the regions any longer," Ms Chambers said.
"These stories tell the story of affordability in regional Australia, but they also tell the story of mums and dads, of workers and people trying to make ends meet."
The federal government used to fund public housing in the regions, but since the mid-90s, it has relied on the private market to do too much of the heavy lifting on affordable housing, meaning homes are now built where the most profit is found, not where they are needed, Ms Chambers said.
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"[The government] changed to offering people concessions and incentives instead of offering the affordable homes itself," she said.
Ms Chambers urged the government to massively increase its social housing portfolio.
"We need 25,000 homes every year for the next decade to keep up with our social housing - we currently build about 3000," she said.
"It's not enough to just build more homes, we need to make them affordable."
Real Estate Institute of Australia chief executive Anna Neelagama called for highly-targeted regional programs to rapidly build supply, such as funding prefabricated or modular homes, an audit of vacant publicly-owned buildings and asking the owners of short-stay accommodation to put their property back on the rental market.
"The Eurobodalla Shire on the South Coast did this and successfully got 80 new properties back into their rental pool - all LGAs should be doing this and the federal government should fund it," Ms Neelagama said.
"Regional real estate agents would all be quick to point out sad cases of police or teacher houses going empty, or other state-owned land not being 'land banked' rather than developed. This is unacceptable."
Independent rural MP Helen Haines has put forward a $2-billion proposal to the federal government to fund the basic infrastructure that surrounds housing developments to unlock more land in regional Australia.
The Regional Housing Infrastructure Fund would build streetlights, electricity poles, sewage and drainage systems, community centres and roads, taking the burden off councils and fast-tracking new developments
"Without this infrastructure, it's going to be hard to fix the crisis in housing supply, but local councils don't have the money to do so on their own," Dr Haines said.
"This fund is an opportunity for the federal government to be a national leader where it has previously fallen short."