‘It’s hard to employ people when there is nowhere for them to live’: How the state’s critical housing crisis is impacting regional Queensland businesses
From the Far North to the South West corner of the state, Queensland businesses are facing disruptions to their ability to grow and scale as the wide-spread housing crisis puts pressure on the labour force.
Chambers from Bowen, Caloundra, Canungra, Gladstone, Goondiwindi, Hills and Districts, Kilcoy, Kingaroy, Logan, Redlands and Stradbroke Islandjoined the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) in highlighting the impact of the housing crisis on the state’s business sector.
CCIQ Policy and Advocacy General Manager Amanda Rohan said regional Queensland businesses were disproportionately impacted.
Ms Rohan said CCIQ data found skill and labour shortages across the majority of industry sectors and especially in rural, regional and remote Queensland meant businesses attempted to offset a reduction in staff availability through higher wages.
“We’re hearing as part of CCIQ’s Regional Policy Committees the housing crisis is wide-spread and in some regions the impact on local businesses is critical,” Ms Rohan said.
“A lack of housing accessibility in those regions makes it all the more difficult for the right skills to relocate to the right places, when and where they’re needed most.
“It means businesses and the communities which rely on them will struggle to trade day-to-day and plan to be competitive, resilient and diversified long-term.”
Straddie Chamber of Commerce President Colin Battersby said small tourism businesses on North Stradbroke Island were having a tough time getting suitably experienced and qualified staff due to the dearth of accommodation available.
“Not only are there a lack of accommodation options for seasonal staff needed to service the tourism sector, but permanent rental options have dried up for existing residents and many have been forced to leave the island all together,” Mr Battersby said.
“This is a tragedy for our small tight-knit community with many long term residents including young families leaving. In many ways it is this exodus that is the most distressing with the social effects long lasting and potentially permanent.”
Mr Battersby’s own businesses, holiday rental management and a fish and chip shop, are under severe staffing pressure.
“With the upcoming school holidays we will not be able to operate and open the café the hours we would normally due to a lack of staffing options,” he said.
“In a highly seasonal sector, tourism businesses like ours rely on Easter holidays to see us through the winter months.
“The accommodation problems together with continuing vaccine mandates is a massive handbrake on all tourism businesses on Straddie.”
Goondiwindi Chamber of Commerce’s Terri-Ann Crothers said local businesses were looking to attract more people to the community to supply the shortfall in employees across several industries, including agribusiness, engineering, hospitality and education.
“However, there are not enough accommodation options - to buy or rent - available to house current residents let alone new residents,” Ms Crothers said.
“We have several innovative businesses who continue to grow who face several issues when recruiting very limited staff, including housing their employees.
“It’s difficult to offer a job when there’s nowhere for the new employee and their family to live.”
Kilcoy Chamber of Commerce President Bronwyn Davies said the housing crisis was critical in the Somerset region and some local businesses were increasing their investment in employee housing to help reduce the impact.
“Our local retail businesses cannot attract the qualified or motivated staff due to the lack of housing in the district while others have closed or reduced trading hours due to staff shortages. The retail sector cannot fulfill shifts without a stronger casual pool of human resources,” Ms Davies said.
“Regional medical operators cannot get staff into the region due to housing and regional service levels.
“Our regional agribusinesses cannot get enough hands on deck to help with crops. Larger businesses and primary producers, manufacturing and building sectors are paying much higher wages to attract qualified staff and then in many cases, have to find them accommodation.
“There is an accommodation crisis every direction.”
Gladstone Chamber of Commerce and Industry Committee President Joe Smith said skilled workers were unable to relocate to the Gladstone region due to limited rental property availability, while lower income earners were forced out of the community due to increasing rental prices.
“While we understand there are a number of factors at play, Gladstone Chamber of Commerce and Industry urges all levels of government to come together to develop a coordinated solution to this complex problem,” Mr Smith said.
“With the region earmarked as a Hydrogen Hub and many large industrial projects in the pipeline, housing availability and affordability will severely impact our ability to attract and retain the people required to meet local demand.
“Housing affordability, as well as liveability and having adequate social infrastructure, are critical factors in the continued growth and economic prosperity of the Gladstone region.”
Kingaroy Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Damien Martoo said the situation in the Burnett was ‘desperate’.
“We are seeing more people sleeping rough in our region which is something that has never really been visible before,” Mr Martoo said.
“Our manufacturers and trades are desperate for skilled staff who want to come to work in the region but due to the lack of accommodation they cannot get here. If they do, they are paying for motel accommodation.
“The ongoing issue is having a negative impact on people's wellbeing and consumer confidence. If people don't feel secure in their housing they will be pinching every penny in the hope to find anything even if it is outside of a comfortable budget.”
The Hills and Districts
The Hills and Districts Chamber of Commerce President Mary Di Marco said there was a need to provide skilled migrants and workers affordable or subsidised housing especially in isolate areas.
“Another aspect is the rising inflation. I have heard people say they are making the decision of whether to feed their family or save for a mortgage. There needs to be assistance. We are rich country. We should be able to provide for our families – they are our future,” Ms Di Marco said.
“When interest rates rise some of the business owners who have mortgaged their homes to support their businesses will make the hard decision, do I sell my business or do I sell my home?”
Bowen Chamber of Commerce president Bruce Hedditch said the chamber had been targeting the local council ‘concerning the dire situation confronting regional Queensland for social housing’ and had met with two not-for-profit organisations responsible for creating social housing.
On the Sunshine Coast, Caloundra Chamber of Commerce CEO Brady Sullivan said the housing crisis was just as significant as other parts of the state and the chamber was looking forward the local council’s planning scheme renewal to deliver housing crisis solutions and remedies locally.
Canungra Chamber of Commerce President Monique Morcus said some local businesses had reported a reduction in trade, expected to be a reflection of local consumers redirecting their ‘play money’ to higher living expenses including housing.
Logan Regional Chamber of Commerce President Chyerl Pridham said housing had been unaffordable for a lot of people for at least the last 12 months.
“COVID played havoc with people's ability to work and pay for mortgages or rent,” she said.
“The construction industry is being pushed to deliver more homes than ever before, but the rising cost of building supplies and supply chain issues are making it very difficult for some to continue - we are seeing smaller construction companies and trades starting to close their doors.
“Demand is out stripping supply at the moment - we are dealing with some very emotional people on a day to day basis which is taking its toll on staff mentally.”
Redlands Coast Chamber of Commerce President Rebecca Young said all three major employment sectors, healthcare service, retail and construction, were experiencing labour shortages.
“Not being able to attract and house people in our city means these sectors will continue to face shortages,” Ms Young said.
“Due to infrastructure issues in our main corridors leading in and out of the city, travelling to the Redlands to work is not desirable.”
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