Mallacoota housing crisis worsens two years after Black Summer fires

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Only 15 of the 120 homes in Mallacoota flattened in the devastating 2019 bushfires have been rebuilt, leaving many of the city’s essential workers unable to find housing.

Kate Cowden of Mallacoota and District Recovery Association says building a home would normally take two to three years if not for the additional delays caused by the COVID pandemic and building material shortages.

“Usually we only have a handful of builders, and everything has to be shipped a very long distance to get the parts,” she says.

“It’s just hard to find things locally, so our builders have a long and busy schedule going forward.”

Many people who lost their homes in the fires used insurance payouts to buy rental properties already on the market in Mallacoota, pushing tenants of those properties out of town.

Other tenants who lost their homes were not eligible for the same emergency relief and compensation as landlords and were forced to fend for themselves or leave the area.

Ms. Cowden says Mallacoota has found itself with a limited workforce to service the city’s aging population.

She says the supermarkets, restaurants, pub and abalone co-op were in desperate need of staff, especially during the summer when the town’s population quadruples with tourists.

“There has been a turnover of staff at the school. Even though new people have gotten the job, they cannot come and do the job because there is no accommodation, so we are also short-term teachers. duration,” Ms. Cowden said.

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Thousands of people gathered on Mallacoota Beach as the fire front approached the town.

Slow rebuilds causing budget blowouts

A 30% rise in the price of building materials has meant that some homeowners who decided to wait out the 13-month council planning approval period and rebuild their homes found they could no longer afford to do.

For some, that has meant changing plans and starting the year-long board approval process all over again.

The importation of builders into the city to speed up rebuilding has also been hampered by a lack of affordable, long-term housing.

Foundation scaffolding for a new house built on a block of vacant land
Of the 120 houses lost two years ago, only 15 have been rebuilt.(ABC News: Rachael Lucas)

“The only things available are holiday homes at holiday home prices, which adds to the cost of construction. The same goes for the huge increase in building material prices due to apparent shortages” , Ms. Cowden said.

Emergency administrative hassles and social housing

Local government regulations regarding the use of caravans and accommodation in pods on private land or in city caravan parks have also complicated the situation.

Long-term rentals on site have been reserved for private owners awaiting reconstruction.

Caravan house on a vacant block
Many Mallacoota residents are still homeless, living in vans, boats, sheds, or sleeping rough.(ABC News: Rachael Lucas)

While some people have managed to find accommodation through housing arrangements with locals, others have chosen to sleep on the streets or in their boats or sheds.

Estimating that around 20 per cent of the population could be in need of some form of social housing, Ms Cowden says the troubling irony is that the city is full of empty and expensive holiday rentals.

Although some holiday home owners have been generous enough to let their short-term rental properties out as long-term rentals to displaced residents, Ms Cowan believes social and emergency housing is the answer.

“Basically, we just don’t have emergency housing,” she says.

“We lost all the emergency accommodation we had at 1 Betka Road in the fires, and we’ve been fighting for two years through the sheets of bureaucracy.

“We’re almost there, but not quite there, with short-term modular housing for emergency accommodation in this block.”

Distant caravans perched on a block of vacant land
Homeowners who lost their homes in the bushfire are allowed to live in place if they plan to rebuild.(ABC News: Rachael Lucas)

Regional housing boom adds to trauma

Ms Cowan says an influx of cashed-in buyers fleeing cities during the pandemic has contributed to rising house prices in the city.

Middle aged woman with view of Mallacoota behind
Ms Cowden hopes the city can get modular social housing in the near future.(ABC News: Rachael Lucas)

She says a two-bedroom apartment that would have sold for $250,000 five years ago would now sell for around $450,000.

Similarly, a modest three-bedroom rental property went from $170 to $370 per week.

“Moving forward financially is very difficult,” Ms Cowan says.

Mallacoota’s working poor, who also face rising fuel and food expenses, typically had to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, she said, and the city could not expect to recover. from the 2019 fires until the housing issue was resolved. .

Ms Cowan says she fears bushfire victims will be forced to spend their insurance money moving from one rental to another and that the younger population will not be able to afford to live in their hometown.

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