The windy shores of Warrnambool are a world away from Alberta Canada’s rocky mountain trails — something Cassidy Kroeker is reminded each morning.
- A Victorian council is building affordable short-term accommodation for workers
- Some tourism businesses are investing in low-cost accommodation for staff
- Australia’s housing shortfall could cost taxpayers $25b annually by 2051, a study has found
Mr Kroeker is a survey equipment specialist, a profession in such short supply that a regional Victorian earthworks company was willing to sponsor and fly him Down Under as soon as his suitcase was packed.
The 34-year-old was parachuted from the snowy winterland of his hometown in February, arriving under a scorching summer sun in Melbourne before nervously driving west in search of adventure and his new home.
Three hours later he was in south-west Victoria.
Little did he know he’d be living out of suitcases for the next few months.
When jobs are easier to find than houses
The regional city of Mortlake, three hours west of Melbourne, is home to 1,500 people.
Mr Kroeker’s new employers, an earthworks moving company specializing in farm work, were desperate to make that 1,501 and find him a place to live close to their operation base in the town.
But that was a task easier said than done.
“It’s been incredibly difficult,” Earth Water Technology business developer Carlie Ryan said.
The housing hunt quickly expanded from Mortlake to include surrounding towns within an hour of the regional base.
“Bringing [new employees] to the area is hard,” Ms Ryan said.
“We’ve even had to look at short-term rentals and Airbnb, which are really hard to find and really expensive.”
As a result, Mr Kroeker was required to live in hotels in Warrnambool, a further 30 minutes west of Mortlake, often moving from room to room at short notice.
“It was definitely a bit of a challenge,” he said.
“It was a lot of calling around and knowing where to call around to find out if an area had space for someone to lease it for more than a month that was furnished.”
After about six months, Mr Kroeker decided to make the jump and find a more permanent home in Warrnambool.
He’s got his own pots and pans now, and while the ocean views are taking a little getting used to, he said he’s pleased to leave behind his time in furnished short-term stay accommodation.
“I plan to be here awhile now,” he said.
“It’s definitely something that I could see turning into applying for citizenship.”
Build it and they will come?
The Moyne Shire Council in south-west Victoria has been trying to make it easier for the next Cassidy Kroeker to relocate to the region.
One study suggests the nationwide lack of affordable housing could end up costing taxpayers $25 billion a year.
Moyne Shire Council has acknowledged the shortage of affordable accommodation and skilled workers, which it says go hand in hand.
As a result, it adopted the motto of “build it and they will come”.
“We know there is a major shortage of housing in our region and that in turn leads to labor shortages,” councilor Daniel Meade said.
The response was twofold: to build short-term accommodation units in the region’s caravan parks, specifically for new workers, that can also be used as holiday houses when empty.
Six cabins built in Mortlake have been booked out since they opened and there was a six-month wait-list for prospective workers.
Another five cabins have been lowered into place in Koroit this month, with plans underway to introduce accommodation in Port Fairy.
Moyne Shire Mayor Ian Smith said the cabins were a practical solution to a long-standing problem.
“This council is partnering with the state government to provide a real solution to the region’s housing and labor shortage,” he said.
“It’s a win-win situation. It means businesses can attract workers, it brings extra people to the towns that then spend in local shops.
“Then, when the cabins aren’t being used for worker housing, they will provide ongoing tourist accommodation options.”
Ms Ryan said it was a step in the right direction, but it was only the first step.
“I don’t think this problem’s going to go away in the short-term,” she said.
“But I do appreciate Moyne Shire identifying this as a need.
“They could probably sit on their hands and do nothing and leave it to market forces, but the more we chip away at it the more it’s going to have a long-term benefit for towns like Mortlake.”