Farmers rush to build

On-farm accommodation could soon be the norm on the Granite Belt, if current trends continue.

By Jess Baker

With available rentals in Stanthorpe at an all-time low, many local farmers have resorted to building their own on-site accommodation for seasonal workers.

Stanthorpe real estate agent Logan Steele suggested this will only become more common as the town’s rental market continues to tighten.

“I’ve got a very large rent roll so when we’ve got practically nothing available for anybody, it shows you how dire it is,” Logan said.

“So (we’re) desperately short of rentals, that’s for sure.”

Logan said he knows a large number of seasonal workers are in need of rental accommodation, but the impact of Covid-19 on the local market means there is nothing left for them.

“It’s a difficult situation for the farmers because they’re trying to get workers to get the crops off and there’s nowhere for people to be living,” he said.

“(The market’s) tightening up even further. And when you get more scares, like they’ve had with the shutdown of greater South East Queensland, that just ultimately ends up sending more people wanting to escape and get away from the lockdown zones and get into the regional areas.”

With two development applications for the construction of temporary workforce accommodation submitted to Southern Downs Regional Council in just one week, it would seem farmers are well aware of the current rental market demands.

On 21 June, applicants Deborah Crawford and Andrew Chalmers requested SDRC allow them to transform a shed at 9 Catherine Street in Stanthorpe into budget accommodation.

It was proposed the housing would accommodate up to five people at a time, each staying approximately five to six months “depending on their situation”.

SDRC received a second application for rural workers’ accommodation on 23 June, with applicant Christopher Haynes requesting approval to build housing for up to 18 workers at a time.

The development is proposed for a 165-acre site at 120 Hindmarsh Road in Lyra, which is surrounded by both homes and vacant land.

A town planning report submitted to SDRC stated the accommodation would only be used by farm workers who work on the same property, and the facility would be managed by the applicant.

Two cabins – each with four rooms and ensuite bathrooms – are proposed for the site, as well as a separate kitchen and laundry.

It is worth noting the Australian government’s Seasonal Worker Programme, which has provided more than 40,000 seasonal farm jobs to workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste since 2021, requires employers to provide their workers with accommodation.

Alternatively, employers must arrange accommodation with an accommodation provider.

With a new Ag Visa now in the works, and the number of available rentals in Stanthorpe continuing to fall, many expect on-farm accommodation will soon be the norm on the Granite Belt.