South West collaboration to improve accommodation for workers

Image from Shutterstock.
Image from Shutterstock.

The incentive for homeowners to rent their spare room has been applauded as a solution to the lack of seasonal workers in the South West.

The Margaret River Tourism Association said there was currently a vacancy rate of 0.1 per cent in the City of Busselton and Shire of Augusta Margaret River, making the outlook for travelling workers finding accommodation nearly impossible.

"It is estimated a minimum of 1,000 staff will be required for the region's peak tourism and grape harvest period between December 2020 and May 2021," the tourism association said.

As a result, the association has banded together with Margaret River Wine Association, Busselton, Margaret River and Augusta Chambers of Commerce and Industry, City of Busselton and Shire of Augusta Margaret River to identify the potential of unused spare rooms in private homes to offer a solution.

Homeowners and occupiers can earn anywhere from $100-$300 per week from letting out their spare room, and in doing so will support local businesses to secure staff and contribute to the economic recovery of the region.

Renting out a spare room does not require local government approval with the Shire of Augusta Margaret River recently approving greater flexibility in the use and establishment of temporary accommodation for seasonal workers.

Another solution the groups are targeting is helping the local governments be more prepared to find ways to fast track approval for rural workers accommodation, temporary expansion of nature-based camping sites, temporary expansion of camping areas and the temporary use of tourism accommodation for worker accommodation.

The Busselton Chamber of Commerce and Industry said health, safety and environmental issues would, still need to be adequately addressed, and approvals may be on a temporary basis only.

Businesses are encouraged to contact their relevant local government for more information and to progress an application.

The incentive will add to the list of promotions from both federal and state governments as part of the country's economic recovery from COVID-19.

The federal government has the seasonal worker program and pacific labour scheme.

The state government is offering agricultural workers a subsidy of $40 per night or $280 per week for accommodation.

It is also offering assistance for eligible workers with travel as part of its work and wander out yonder initiative.

The tourism association and chambers are calling for the state government to extend the accommodation payment to tourism and hospitality workers.

However the governments incentives have not helped what has been labelled a 'rental crisis' in the state.

The Mail has been reporting for months the low number of vacancies compared with the high number of potential tenants.

The Real Estate Institute of WA president Damian Collins said it was most likely the increase in cost of rentals would not be realised until after the tenancy laws change in March 2021.

"The issue comes down to lack of investors in the market and the only way we will see more rental properties become available, is by encouraging more people to invest in WA property," he said.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam echoed the industry's concern and said the state government's lack of action on the short term accommodation inquiry was part of the issue.

"I am hearing from locals who are already finding it extremely difficult to find a rental property," she said.

"This is placing significant pressure on regional businesses who are finding it difficult to get workers as a result of a lack of accommodation.

"In the region we are also still awaiting the response to the government's response to Airbnb, as it is clear the shortage of long term rentals is a concern for locals seeking a home as well as our businesses who are seeking staff."

Warren-Blackwood MLA Terry Redman questioned the government on the issue in parliament last week.

"It is disappointing the McGowan Government has not yet implemented key recommendations contained in the 'Levelling the Playing Field' report, meaning there is still no accreditation or regulation system in place for short stay accommodation providers," he said.

"The increase in short stay accommodation properties offered through online booking platforms, limits the number of houses available for long-term rent, hence the very real fear of rental price rises after the moratorium is lifted next year.

"I applaud the MRBTA's innovation in seeking alternative solutions to the current housing crisis for seasonal workers, and the idea to ask homeowners to rent their spare rooms is an interesting one.

"Of course homeowners will need to feel comfortable with a boarder in their home, however this proposal seems like a win for all parties."

WA planning minister Rita Saffioti said the government was delivering on its commitment to adopt the recommendations.

"The accommodation sector in WA is undergoing a unique and exceptionally busy period at the moment. We did not want to rush through any changes and potentially put additional pressure on the sector," she said.

"A draft position statement is being prepared by the Western Australian Planning Commission to encourage better consistency in how short-term rentals are regulated."

The position statement will be open for public comment in 2021.

The government is also preparing an interagency review on a potential registration scheme for short-term rental accommodation