Housing crisis

Housing crisis in centers like Broome is stifling dreams of developing the north, experts say

Northern development has long been a goal of successive federal governments, but experts say the regional rental crisis is holding back growth.

Long-time residents of the Kimberley in Western Australia’s far north are leaving due to sky-high rents and limited housing stock, while businesses struggle to attract and house seasonal workers incoming before the busy dry season.

University of WA head of social sciences Amanda Davies said unless something changed it would be difficult for northern centers such as Broome to capitalize on development opportunities.

‘If we are serious about developing northern Australia, it’s important that the infrastructure is available to give businesses the confidence to grow…affordable housing is part of that,’ she said.

“We are looking to the northern part of Australia to grow through hubs like Broome, and it’s very important that there is an ability to attract and retain people.

Amanda Davies says meaningful housing strategies are needed to facilitate sustainable growth in northern Australia.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

Dr Davies said Broome was in a difficult position where it could not expand due to housing shortages.

“[The housing crisis] it looks like it’s probably going to escalate and get worse,” she said.

“We have more people looking for lifestyle and relocation opportunities in northern areas.

“It is more likely that the situation will worsen until there is significant strategic investment in lower to mid-range housing options in the area.

A dark-haired woman and her partner seated together at a table.
Maggie Yu and her partner Allen worry about having to leave Broome.(ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

hard choices

Rising property values ​​and low rental vacancy rates have left some residents facing tough choices, including childcare worker Maggie Yu.

She has lived in Broome for nearly a decade, but may soon be forced to leave the town and community she loves because she can’t find anywhere to live.

The lease on her property ends next month and she is scrambling to secure another property to live with her partner.

“I’m so stressed and couldn’t sleep for a few days,” she said.

“I have lived in Broome for over eight years – [securing housing] hasn’t been a problem before, but from 2020 it’s a really stressful problem.”

A luminous real estate sign that reads "for sale" in front of gum trees.
The median house price in Broome has jumped nearly 30% in the past 12 months, while rental vacancy rates remain stubbornly low.(ABC Kimberley: Jessica Hayes)

Ms Yu has filed several unsuccessful applications for private rental properties through estate agents and trawled community groups on social media for a guest room.

So far, she has arrived empty-handed and fears that as more people arrive in town ahead of the busy dry season in search of work, competition for accommodation will only increase.

“If nothing happens we will probably have to leave Broome and move to find somewhere else to call home,” she said.

“It’s really sad to leave this place because we’ve been here so long and we love the people here and the strong community relationships.

“If we move again, everything has to start from scratch, so hopefully we can stay and not have to leave.”

In the meantime, Ms. Yu and her partner have been offered a place in a friend’s trailer until she finds a more permanent solution or has to leave.

“It’s not what we usually look for, because we’ve lived in a house for the last eight years, so it will be quite a new experience for us,” she said.

A dark-haired man stands in front of a tall building.
Tony Hutchinson says Broome’s rental problems are likely to get worse before they get better.(ABC Kimberley: Ben Collins)

“It’s gonna get worse”

Broome-based estate agent Tony Hutchinson said the Kimberley rental market was in a “diabolical situation” which did not look likely to ease anytime soon.

“I think it’s going to get worse,” he said.

Mr Hutchinson said construction delays and labor shortages meant there would be significant delays in the delivery of new homes.

“The supply of new housing is going to be delayed a lot, it’s going to take at least two or three years,” he said.

A man with a graying beard, wearing a shirt, stands in front of a bookcase indoors.
Michael Fotheringham says Australia is at a critical point.(ABC News: Daniel Close)

Michael Fotheringham, chief executive of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, said Australia was at a tipping point in tackling unaffordable housing and lack of stock across the country.

With federal elections slated for May 21, he said a national response was urgently needed and political parties needed to set policies that would address housing stock issues.

“It’s not something we can continue to ignore and think the market will resolve on its own,” he said.

“We’re seeing more and more people having to do things like sleep in their car to keep a job because there’s no housing near where they work.

“It’s not a future for Australia that any of us are hoping for.”

Dr Davies said housing should be seen by major parties as key to achieving the North’s development goals in the next election.

“I would look for really meaningful strategies to support job growth, for sustainable housing in the North, to really start to ensure that the populations that are already there can grow and grow in a sustainable way.”