The housing situation in my electorate of Indi, in North East Victoria, is getting worse and worse, day by day.

In North East Victoria, 40.6 per cent of renters are experiencing housing stress.

A recent report by Community Housing Industry Association Victoria found that North East Victoria had the highest rental increases in regional Victoria. They rose by about $36 a week on average since interest rates started rising last May, ranking us the ninth worst in the state.

The convergence of rising rental prices, a decline in the supply of affordable housing, and a rise in living costs like groceries, petrol and power, means renters are being faced with desperate situations.

Celia Adams, CEO of Beyond Housing that provides pathways to affordable housing in Wangaratta and Wodonga, says (and I quote) “we are seeing people choosing to stay in a rental home they can no longer afford, or that may be overcrowded, unsuitable for their needs or most worryingly, unsafe”.

This is because there is nowhere for people to go. In Wangaratta, the second biggest town in my electorate, vacancy rates are just 0.1 per cent.

Celia said people are moving away from their friends, families, and established support networks – they are leaving their communities – to find more affordable housing situations. Her services are seeing a 37 per cent increase in private rental support services right now.

Sadly, in the worst case scenario people are living without a stable roof over their heads at all. According to 2021 Census data released last week, homelessness in Wangaratta has increase by 67 per cent since 2016.

The Government, to their credit, has recognised that the pathway out of this crisis is an ongoing commitment to more long-term social housing, with a plan to build 30,000 new social housing properties over five years.

I supported the Government’s housing package, and worked with the Government to ensure the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council must consider regional, rural and remote Australia when it is advising the Government on the distribution of the Housing Australia Future Fund.

I also moved amendments to ensure the legislation explicitly states that the Fund can direct money towards critical enabling infrastructure.

With the Government’s housing package in doubt in the Senate, we still need a solution to this housing crisis. It’s not going away.

Whether the housing legislative package is passed or not, there is no way the Government is going to fulfil their election promise of thousands of new homes if it doesn’t specifically invest in critical enabling infrastructure. We must provide support for the infrastructure to open up the land to build the houses on.

Infrastructure like a functioning sewerage system or drainage system that communities like Wangaratta and Benalla desperately need to fix but the local councils don’t have the money to do so on their own.

That’s why I have been calling for the Government to set up a dedicated Regional Housing Infrastructure Investment fund.  This fund would unlock private investment in new houses by building the basic infrastructure needed for new developments, including social infrastructure like parks and community centres. It would also provide local government assistance to fast-track planning approvals and reduce red tape.

With record rises in rent like we have never seen before in regional Australia, we must think creatively and contextually about what we need to open up housing stock at all levels. We need medium density housing, we need social housing and we need clever housing.

The peak housing body in Australia – the Housing Industry Association – agrees with me. Only last week they warned that failures to increase supply, address supply chain problems and slash red tape poses the greatest threat to cheaper rents and the Government’s pledge to build one million homes.

Like me, the Housing Industry Association is wholly supportive of more social housing. But they say that supply of housing in the private sector is crucial to ensuring enough social housing too.

The Government’s policies are nowhere near good enough for regional Australia. Fund a Regional Housing Infrastructure fund, and fund it now. Without this investment, your ambitions and goals of affordable housing for all Australians will not and cannot be realised.

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