Census 2016: One in three homes are vacant in once-booming mining towns – The Australian Financial Review

One in three homes are vacant in some mining towns, including Moranbah in Queensland.

One in three homes in some mining towns are empty as the end of the coal and iron ore boom continues to have a big impact on regional communities across Australia.

The 2016 Census showed 11.2 per cent of the nation’s housing stock was empty, up from 10.7 in the 2011, with a 7.2 per cent vacancy in Sydney and 9.6 per cent in Melbourne.

But head out into regional Queensland or Western Australia the picture only gets worse, with some mining towns more like ghost towns than a thriving hub supporting Chinese’s thirst for Australia’s resources.

In Moranbah – a town in the heart of the Bowen Basin where a four bedroom house sold for $820,000 in 2012 – almost one-third of the houses remain vacant.

Despite an up-tick in international coal prices in the past year – which has resulted in increased exploration in the Bowen and Surat Basins – coal workers are not moving back into the town just yet and there remains a glut of houses and units on the market.

“It’s picked up a little bit but don’t call it a boom,” says Moranbah real estate agent Bella Exposito. “The coal price doesn’t make any difference – it will be employment that will bring jobs back to town.”

Last week Ms Exposito finally rented her own investment property in Dysart which had been on the market for four years. The rent for the three-bedroom house was $120 a week. Four years ago she was receiving $2000 a week.

Houses are now being snapped up by young locals who want to enter the market, rather than aggressive investors from Sydney or Melbourne looking for a bargain in what they thought would be a never-ending coal boom.

House prices have plummeted with a three bed-room home in Dysart bought for $59,000 a few months ago, while $87,000 can get you a decent house in Moranbah.

Some 33 per cent of homes vacant in Port Hedland in WA - close to double the amount (18.73 per cent) in 2011.

Some 33 per cent of homes vacant in Port Hedland in WA - close to double the amount (18.73 per cent) in 2011.

Some 33 per cent of homes vacant in Port Hedland in WA – close to double the amount (18.73 per cent) in 2011. Caitlin U’ren

In Gladstone – home of the $80 billion liquiefied natural gas industry – unoccupied housing stock has jumped from 13.7 per cent in 2011 to almost 20 per cent last year.

Gladstone Ports Corporation chairman Leo Zussino said unlike other cities Gladstone didn’t experience the downturn after the mining boom as the LNG projects picked up the slack, creating 15,000 jobs for workers on Curtis Island, with about 10,000 workers from out of town.

House prices went up by 40 to 50 per cent and rental vacancies dropped, but as the three big projects finished construction, gas workers left and started looking for work elsewhere, mostly in the Northern Territory or WA.

“Gladstone never suffered a reduction in prices after the global financial crisis like Sydney and Melbourne but they are coming off now,” Mr Zussino said.

“But we’re a major industrial centre for Australia and over the last few decades there have been periods of high construction followed by a lull in activity until the next big project comes along and this will happen again.

“Like the early 1980s, after the LNG boom there has been a surplus of housing and it takes a few years before it balances out.”

Across the Nullarbor is a similar story, with 33.65 per cent of homes vacant in Port Hedland in WA – close to double the amount (18.73 per cent) in 2011.

By comparison, at the more cosmopolitan Southbank in Melbourne the amount of homes or units that remain vacant has pretty much stayed the same over the past five years, at just over 17 per cent.