Housing crisis needs urgent attention, say Murray Bridge councillors

The Murray Bridge council will ask the PM and Premier to intervene in what Councillor Karen Eckermann calls a "perfect storm" of high rents and low incomes.

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Murray Bridge’s housing crisis needs attention from the highest levels of government, the city’s councillors say.

The council will demand action from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Premier Steven Marshall as locals struggle with with a lack of rental properties and affordable housing.

Councillor Karen Eckermann raised her voice for locals at a meeting on Tuesday night.

“There’s great anxiety in Murray Bridge,” she said.

“We’re all aware of a perfect storm brewing in regional areas, already adding pressure on local housing agencies, with a significant increase in the number of people seeking housing help.”

Household budgets were already stretched, she said, while rents were increasing, housing was scarce and government payments would drop by $100 a fortnight at the end of March.

Maintenance of public housing was also a problem, she said, as desperate people were left waiting while homes sat empty because they were not fit to be lived in.

“I believe these issues require urgent attention from the federal and state governments and a broad community effort to call for greater action,” she said.

In many cases the lack of public housing was driving tenants towards unscupulous landlords, Mayor Brenton Lewis said.

“There’s people paying large sums of money above what you’d call a reasonable rent, being housed in houses (where) you’d have to question why is that happening,” he said.

“In a lot of cases they’d find it hard to find a house anywhere else.

“They’re being accommodated in Murray Bridge at extreme rental.”

The council will demand more public housing in Murray Bridge and better maintenance of existing public housing in a letter to Mr Morrison, Mr Marshall, federal Housing Minister Michael Sukkar and state Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink.

Cr Wayne Thorley also suggested asking the SA Housing Authority why so many of their properties are in an unusable state.

“You only have to drive though very many parts of our town where there’d be large stocks of public housing where they’re not in a fit, useful condition because they’ve not been maintained,” he said.

Cr John DeMichele – a real estate agent by day – argued that it would be better to sell public housing than leave it unoccupied.

“At last count there were about 18 (houses) that I’ve noticed vacant for over 12 months,” he said.

“If they don’t want to fix it or rent it, well, put it on the market, give someone else an opportunity.”

Only one in 50 properties is vacant, SA Housing Authority says

The SA Housing Authority manages about 1100 properties in Murray Bridge and surrounding towns.

A spokeswoman told Murray Bridge News she was unable to say how many were vacant.

But she suggested the figure would be close to the statewide vacancy rate of 1.8 per cent, which would equate to about 20 empty properties.

In most cases houses were empty due to timing issues, as the old tenants moved out and new ones moved in.

“There might be some properties that need more maintenance than others,” she said.

“For some we think about ‘are we going to put new tenants in there, what’s the future of this site?’”

Properties which needed significant work done were sometimes left vacant until they could be slotted into the SA Housing Authority’s capital works program, she suggested.

The authority currently spends about $122.5 million per year on property maintenance.

The spokeswoman also said “a small number” of new Housing SA properties would be built in Murray Bridge during the next 18 months.

More than 16,000 South Australians were on the waiting list for public housing on December 31.

Yet, according to its strategic plan, the SA Housing Authority has been asked to find almost $4.6 million worth of savings in its annual budget, after an $11.5 million budget cut last year.

On its website, the authority says it would not be possible to build new homes for every low-income or at-risk South Australian.

Watch this space, Mayor Brenton Lewis warns

Mr Lewis said the issue of housing would get a lot more attention in the coming weeks.

A film crew from the Nine Network had been in town recently, he said, shooting a current affairs segment which he expected to paint Murray Bridge in a poor light.

Nine had sent the crew to follow up on an article in The Australian last month which described Murray Bridge as the “meth capital of Australia”, Mr Lewis said.

Local poet Claire Watson refuted that claim in Murray Bridge News a few days later.

“A drug raid or a grisly murder always get attention,” she said.

“The vaster good within our city seldom rates a mention.”