It’s a lock-out: Queensland rural housing crisis threatens to put hand-brake on regions

Chronic rental property shortfalls in areas of rural Queensland are putting jobs and industries at risk, dividing opinion as community leaders call it a crisis and real estate agents hail conditions as “the best on record”.

Apr 29, 2021, updated Apr 29, 2021
Western towns like Barcaldine are in the front-line of the housing crisis. (Photo: supplied)

Western towns like Barcaldine are in the front-line of the housing crisis. (Photo: supplied)

Longreach real estate agent Matthew Strong says he’s in the middle of a business boom as demand for rental properties and sales listings exceeds supply.

The owner of Longreach Real Estate says he hasn’t seen business as brisk since taking ownership of the agency four years ago.

It’s why he’s bristled at comments made recently describing current conditions across the western Queensland district as a housing market failure.

“There’s no doubt there’s a lack of available rentals but I wouldn’t call that a market failure,” he said.

“I see that as good for my business.”

But not everyone is smiling.

Prospective buyers, out-priced by soaring rents closer to the coast who are looking west for cheaper options, can pick up a four-year old, four-bedroom, two bathroom home on a 1400 square metre block for $380-400,000 – a bargain price when compared against capital city or large regional centre benchmarks.

But brand-new homes are scarce.

“We have shovel-ready blocks ready to go but the situation here is that with the increased costs to get something built from scratch, you’re better off buying an existing dwelling,” Strong says.

The lack of new construction, coupled with the attraction to near-new and older, renovated homes, is eating into available housing stock overall, creating a dire landscape for renters.

“I have two houses available for rent in Longreach,” Strong says.

“I put up a new listing last Thursday and in one day I had four applications, with another the next day from a government agency in Brisbane trying to secure the property for their employees.

“That was for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, older renovated property at $350 a week. But that’s it – there’s nothing at Ilfracombe 27 kilometres away, nor at the next closest town in Barcaldine.

“This is the problem for government services like health and education trying to recruit new people to town or businesses looking for staff, we’ve run out of options, to the point that if someone new is coming to town to work they might have to live 100 kilometres away and commute.”

Remote Area Planning and Development  Board (RAPAD) CEO David Arnold says there’s a reluctant acceptance of a housing market failure in western Queensland, which he believes is developing into a crisis.

“You can quote stories from across the region of people not being able to secure housing and its contributing to major skills shortages, gaps in our ranks of casual staff for the tourism and hospitality sectors and under-investment in our region,” he said.

But Arnold concedes the information is so far anecdotal and piecemeal. For this reason, his organisation, through the Western Queensland Alliance of Councils (WQAC), is supporting an investigation into housing market failure by the Regional Australia Institute.

Senior economist with RAI Diwa Hopkins visited Longreach and Barcaldine last week to meet with stakeholders including council planning staff, real estate agents, builders, financiers including banks and non- bank lenders, mortgage brokers and valuers as well as state government regional managers.

The focus on Longreach’s housing crisis, which according to Strong has forced new recruits on long-term job contracts into emergency accommodation options such as motels and hotels, comes as major tourist leaders gathered in the community to leverage growing interest in the outback tourism sector.

More than 47,000 people are on the waiting list for public housing in Queensland, with community groups urging the state government to take immediate action.

Queensland Council of Social Services chief executive Aimee McVeigh says 47,036 people are on the state’s social housing register, a 70 per cent increase in just three years.

“If the 47,036 people on the register were to form a town, it would be the fifth largest in the state – bigger than Gladstone, Maryborough or Gympie,” she said in a statement.

QCOSS and 12 community groups including Vinnies Qld, Mission Australia, Micah Projects and Kyabra are calling on the state to invest $4.1 billion to build 14,700 new homes.

The board of directors for Qantas plus CEO Alan Joyce, Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) and Outback Queensland Tourism Association (OQTA) held  their respective meetings in Longreach on April 22, hailed as a milestone week.

OQTA CEO Denise Brown, said outback tourism supported 4600 jobs and generated $467.4 million for the local economy, but would not answer questions put to her from InQueensland, asking if she had faith in the region’s capacity to accommodate a bigger influx of visitors over the coming months.

KAP leader Robbie Katter is calling on the State Government to intervene in the crisis by offering a type of ‘first home owners grant’ tailored for the bush and aimed at the glut of older homes on the market that have come at the expense of new dwellings and scarce rentals.

His party has renewed its calls for the grant scheme, currently worth $15,000 to those who are eligible across Queensland, to be extended to existing homes in smaller regional centres and lifted to $20,000.

Katter said the current scheme only applied to new or off-the-plan builds and not to existing homes, disadvantaging younger people who want to remain in smaller centres.

An additional $5,000 has been on offer since 2020 for first home buyers in regional locations, but again this only applies to new-builds, he said.

Katter said there was an abundance of older homes in for sale in small towns like Mount Isa, Ingham and Atherton, but there were few to no real-estate developments underway meaning home buyers could rarely buy “off-the-plan”.

“The only way first home buyers in these smaller centres can access the grant is to be completely irrational, ignoring all the older homes on the market and instead going and buy a brand-new block and build from scratch,” he said.

“The result is a growing surplus of old and abandoned homes being left to rot, all thanks to a combination of market forces and unfair government policy that discriminates against the regions.

“This is obviously not good for communities.”

Katter said current regional trends were out-pricing many from the rental market, leading to displacement and homelessness.

He said these figures were not being offset by an equal uptake in the buyer’s market, though there had been some good movement in recent months.

The rental vacancy rate in Charters Towers has been at or below 0.3 per cent since September last

In Mareeba, the rental vacancy rate is 1.5 per cent 2 but there are 172 homes for sale, according to, with a median price of $332,250.

The Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) has long advocated for the First Home Owners’ Grant to be extended to established homes in rural and regional areas.


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