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Shire of Denmark votes to adopt draft housing affordability policy amid housing crisis

The Shire of Denmark council has adopted a draft housing affordability policy to help the shire respond to the local housing crisis.

In a report prepared for council, Shire chief executive David Schober said the purpose of the policy was to detail the Shire’s role in supporting diverse, sustainable and affordable housing development.

Councillors unanimously voted to adopt the draft housing affordability policy at Tuesday’s ordinary council meeting.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of available housing in Denmark, and other coastal locations in WA was beginning to emerge as a significant issue with increased property prices and a decrease in available properties for long term rental,” Mr Schober said.

“Tourism destinations, like Denmark, have received increased visitations, driving up demand for accommodation, resulting in price increases, both for property purchase and within the short- and long-term rental markets.”

The Shire hosted two community forums last year involving the Department of Communities — the State Government department responsible for housing — and other key agencies to discuss solutions to the housing crisis.

“One of the requests generated from the Denmark forum was for the Shire of Denmark to create a policy position in respect to housing in Denmark,” Mr Schober said in the report.

“Following the two regional and two Denmark community forums, councillors participated in a series of briefings and requested the CEO draft a policy position with respect to the Shire’s role and relationship to housing issues in Denmark.”

The policy statement says the Shire will take action within its capabilities to facilitate and enable diverse and affordable housing development that meets the needs of current and future residents.

The statement also says the Shire will achieve this through an advocacy and partnership approach with key stakeholders and agencies.

Homeless Project Denmark’s Terry Mackintosh and Simone Watson raised their concerns about the draft policy during public question time on Tuesday.

“I think what we have been trying to highlight is the lack of housing,” Mr Mackintosh said.

“There’s no question about the affordability of housing. It’s about the lack of housing available.”

Mr Schober said the policy would enable the council to approach the issue from an operational perspective.

“This policy gives council the ability to go to the State and say we need more money,” he said.

Mr Mackintosh said the group had been calling on the Shire to consider releasing land and identifying premises for possible housing options.

Cr Janine Phillips said “one of the few things we can do is increase housing stocks through planning”.

Homeless Project Denmark’s Simon Watson asked councillors whether crisis accommodation could be set up in places like the IGA car park or community halls.

Shire president Ceinwen Gearon said the council had looked into similar options but they were not suitable for habitation.

According to Homeless Project Denmark, there are 186 homeless people in Denmark.

Mr Schober said having verified data around homelessness was one of the biggest obstacles they had faced with securing grants.

“The challenge to date has been accessing valid and reliable data to demonstrate the need and support affordable housing projects,” he said in the report.

“Feedback from funding agencies, derived from three grant applications in the last 12 months, has identified these gaps and will be central to the success of any future funding requests.”

Cr Phillips suggested approaching other local government shires to see if they had housing availability.

She said there were shires in the Wheatbelt with empty houses and no one to fill them.

“They have housing and no one to take it up,” she said.

Mr Schober said if they approached other shires they would be seen to be “pushing people out of the shire” and “getting rid of the problem”.

Cr Donald Clarke said he would like to see council generate an affordable housing policy.

“There has been a lot of thought and effort around this issue,” he said.

“A document like a policy would be able to reflect that back to the community.”

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