‘Spare room’ solution

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

Shire residents will be encouraged to throw their doors open to lodgers in a desperate bid to solve the lack of housing for the 1000-plus seasonal workers needed in coming months.

A coalition of industry leaders has amid concerns grapes will rot on the vine and cafes, restaurants and other venues will struggle to meet summer demand without houses for willing workers.

As the State Government this week confirmed it could not put a number on how many agricultural workers had entered WA in recent months, a task force including the Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association, the Margaret River Wine Association, the City of Busselton, the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River and regional chambers of commerce have cobbled together a plan to free up residential supply.

At the same time, local governments will relax short-stay planning laws to allow extended tenancies for authorised seasonal workers, caravan parks will be allowed minor extra capacity, and other measures — including promoting the campaign to see spare bedrooms let to seasonal workers — are under review.

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Capes rental vacancy rates are sitting at 0.1 per cent, hindering employers from recruiting willing workers, the group said.

The task force will now lobby the State Government to extend a $40 a night accommodation subsidy to tourism and hospitality workers.

“Business are now facing the reality of having to constrain the quality and/or capacity of their operations — a significant setback in their COVID-19 recovery,” MRBTA co-chief executive Sharna Kearney said.

She said the group was “also calling for a further payment to be offered to any accommodation supplier, including motels, chalets, and bed and breakfasts, which make accommodation available exclusively for seasonal workers”.

While the short-stay sector would also be called upon, Augusta Chamber of Commerce president Andrea Lindsay said, like her own business, few providers had long-term availability for the coming months.

Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said spare rooms were “identified as the greatest capacity for accommodation here in the South West”.

“Renting out a spare room to someone who is working doesn’t require any sort of approval from the City,” Mr Henley said. “But people are encouraged to do their own due diligence.”

Homeowners were encouraged to list rooms on Facebook and sites such as Flatmate Finders and Gumtree.

The Augusta-Margaret River Shire council passed emergency measures on Wednesday night to prepare for the campaign.

Existing caravan parks were reportedly already at capacity, with many new arrivals scrambling to secure sites.

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