Council homelessness focus questioned

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The issue of homelessness in Margaret River has raised its head again.
Camera IconThe issue of homelessness in Margaret River has raised its head again.

A Margaret River-based real estate director has questioned the Shire council’s focus on homelessness, reporting rents were down and houses sitting vacant.

First National Real Estate’s Barry Granville offered the critique during a recent local government election forum to determine where this weekend’s five council candidates stood.

Mr Granville told the Times many rentals were coming out of Airbnb following a Shire of Aug-usta-Margaret River crackdown, and with rents on some properties dropping as much as 10 per cent.

He did not believe council talk around unaffordability and rising rents was accurate.

“Those numbers didn’t ring true to me because we’ve got owners trying to lease their properties for rent and we went through a period in winter where we had a number of properties for rent,” Mr Granville said. “All I’m disputing is the facts being used. Have we looked at all the facts? The trend is actually going away from what the people who are claiming (about) homelessness, and there’s no properties.”

No council candidates flagged changes to the annual $20,000 payment made to homelessness advocacy group Just Home, chaired by councillor Naomi Godden, although Kylie Kennaugh, Brian Daniel and Rob McDonald said those needs had to be balanced amid the complicated drivers of housing unaffordability and homelessness.

Peter Griffyn said council action was “valid” due to a lack of local solutions. “The future council will analyse any further action at that time, so if there are ratepayers with solutions and homes for people to utilise whilst they get back on their feet, I’m all ears,” he said.

Paula Cristoffanini told the Times she backed ratepayer spending to support residents in crisis and to gather more hard data.

“Our community is very diverse and would include people who are homeless as homelessness can strike the most unexpected people,” she said.

Ms Kennaugh said the struggling economy had to be considered, while Mr Daniel said ratepayers had to get “a fair deal” when funds were spent.

Mr McDonald said the Shire had to work with those involved, while also noting social housing was a State Government portfolio.

In her capacity as Just Home chairwoman, Cr Godden said low-income clients struggled to find rentals below $300 per week and the ratepayer contribution to the not-for-profit was “a pittance” in its $38 million budget.

Compared to major projects, “$20,000 is minuscule in comparison, and provides incredible value for money”.

“Low-cost rentals are few and far between in Margaret River,” Cr Godden said. “There is obviously a need for the service, and we must remember that the Shire works for everyone, including its most vulnerable community members.”

In two years, the housing advocacy officer “supported an enormous client list of 75 people and their 61 children experiencing homelessness or at high risk of homelessness” despite funding to work only 15 hours per week.

Cr Godden noted the three-year deal was endorsed unanimously in 2017 before she was elected, while Cr Ian Earl was Shire president and Ms Kennaugh deputy president.

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