Country house squeeze could ease, data shows


Australia’s severe housing shortages could start to ease, with people moving back into the city from the country as pandemic lockdowns lift, new data shows.

A report by the Regional Australia Institute found that 4.6% of internal population flow was movement from regions to cities in the first three months of the year.

Regional residents have stayed put during COVID-19 shutdowns in capitals, while more city dwellers have moved to the countryside, leading to rent shortages and a tight housing market.

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The institute‘s Regional Movers Index report, based on data from Commonwealth Bank’s 10 million customers, said the percentage of people leaving the regions is higher than the average for the COVID era and the previous two years.

The change is likely the result of a “pent-up” desire to move, according to the report.

The institute’s chief economist, Dr Kim Houghton, said tens of thousands of regional cookstoves could become available nationwide.

“It’s a small percentage change, but because these markets are so finely balanced, it will make a big difference on the ground in the very short term,” Dr Houghton told reporters on Thursday.

But migration is a two-way street and people continue to swap city for countryside, with exiles from capital cities rising to a new record high of more than 16% in the March quarter.

Far more people are leaving cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, than in the two years before the pandemic, with a 26.7% higher migration rate.

Millennials and their young families make up the majority of people moving to the top five regional hotspots – Ceduna, Mount Gambier and Port Augusta in South Australia; Moorabool in the Western Downs of Victoria and Queensland.

These regions tend to be attractive because of their diverse economies – made up of agriculture, hospitality, manufacturing and healthcare – said Commonwealth Bank regional and agribusiness managing director Paul Fowler.

People between the ages of 25 and 40 are attracted by cheaper housing and job opportunities in the regions, where there are 85,000 vacancies, he said.

“(There are) incredible employment opportunities for families, millennials, Generation Xers, to move into areas and support thriving economic and social communities,” Mr. Fowler said.

Dr Houghton said long-term trends show that 20% of Australia’s population changes every five years as people change careers and lifestyles.

“We are a very mobile country by international standards,” he said.

“The idea that this is a one-time move and people will be staying in a place like Moorabool for the rest of their lives just isn’t happening.”

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Pierre Fray

Pierre Fray
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