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Going up: country towns need to welcome high-rises

A national regional housing summit in Canberra is exploring solutions for growing country populations, including high-rise units, modular homes and spare rooms.



Not everyone moving to regional Australia is looking for a home among the gumtrees with lots of plum trees - and they definitely don't want a sheep or two.


Developers should be encouraged to build more medium-density homes in the regions as country populations boom and demand more workers, experts have told a housing summit.


Master Builders Australia chief executive Denita Wawn said city professionals considering a move to the country are looking for low maintenance housing.


"They still may want to go back from the regions to the cities ... they don't want a detached house with a large garden," Ms Wawn told the national regional housing summit in Canberra on Friday.


"What are we doing to encourage and incentivise investors looking at more medium to high-rise?


"It's an important conversation about going up."

Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn says there is a demand for low maintenance housing.


The Regional Australia Institute is hosting the summit to examine housing policy solutions, hearing from industry leaders, social services and local councils.


Country house prices are hitting record levels and narrowing in on the city market, with median values over $605,000, an institute analysis shows.


Rental vacancies are worsening, dropping to 1.2 per cent in September, while the regions attracted 166,000 new residents in recent years.


Some regional communities are taking charge to attract key workers, with healthcare professionals, carers and admin staff in high demand.


A 15-storey building with 80 apartments is being built in Dubbo, the first high-rise residential building in the western NSW city.


The regional think tank's chief economist Kim Houghton said investors need to realise the value of mixed density housing.


"Whenever they do have medium and small (density) in country towns, they tend to get snapped up really quickly," Dr Houghton told the summit.


"The key markets are older folks looking to downsize and ... these young professionals who are cycling through our regional places, who don't  particularly want a large house on a large lot." 


Other solutions include local councils in central west NSW investigating whether the region's estimated 25,000 spare rooms could be rented out, following the success of a similar project to recruit nurses in rural Canada.


Quilpie Council, in outback Queensland, had some traction offering $12,500 grants to people building new houses across the region and upped their offering to $20,000.


The institute is calling for 40 per cent of the federal government's $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, set up to increase social and affordable housing, to be directed to country areas.


There are also calls for an urgent roll-out of modular and relocatable homes.


The median price of all dwellings in the regions jumped 54 per cent from $392,802 to $605,780 between March 2020 and December 2023, compared to a 29 per cent increase to $832,193 in the capitals.


REIA chief Anna Neelagama said there was strong competition for regional properties.


Monthly building approvals continue to decrease, a similar trend to the capital cities.


Real Estate Institute chief executive Anna Neelagama said the conditions meant regional agents were seeing 80 applicants for one property.


"You're often finding farm workers competing with doctors competing with council workers.


"Those agents want to give all of those people a home.


"It's hugely stressful in the regions, it's hugely stressful everywhere." 


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