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Mallee housing initiative hopes to bring fresh business to small town


The Karoonda East Murray Council is building three new homes as a continuation of its land rebate program to bring newcomers to the region.

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Located nearly two hours east of Adelaide in the heart of the Mallee, the town of Karoonda prides itself on its rich agricultural history, country charm, award-winning silo art and the big ram. But like most towns in Australia, the town of just over 500 people is struggling to attract newcomers because of a housing shortage.

To counter this, the Karoonda East Murray Council began an incentive program in 2020 offering cash rebates of 90 per cent on the purchase of vacant blocks of land. These vacant blocks were owned by the council and according to the Mayor of Karoonda, Caroline Phillips, the benefit of having a new family in town far outweighed the price of the land.

This rebate meant that those in the market for land in Karoonda could potentially purchase a block that was listed at $20,000 for around $2000 if they built a house on the land within a timeframe. The scheme saw five new homes built, according to a council agenda.

Now in Stage 2 of the initiative, the Karoonda East Murray Council will run the rebate program alongside a new self-funded initiative where the council will have three turnkey houses built on council-owned blocks to be sold at a price of between $250,000 and $300,000.

Mayor Phillips said the new initiative is aimed at both renters in the area who are looking to buy their own property and free up rentals, and at those looking to relocate or purchase an investment property.

Businesses in regional areas like Karoonda are struggling, in part due to the lack of affordable properties.

Rent and mortgage costs are the single biggest expense for most households so keeping those costs down is key for businesses in these areas looking to create a customer base.

“For local businesses, there is nothing better than attracting a new resident or new family to town,” Mayor Phillips said.

“Attracting new residents means more people to utilise our services in terms of our school, our hospital, our local business.”

She said it also creates more jobs and a higher demand for new businesses in town which is exactly what Karoonda is hoping comes from this project.

“Certainly there’s a number of gaps within our area … we don’t have a local plumber, things like that, those trades that are missing in the district,” Mayor Phillips said.

“We’re hoping that there might be the opportunity for someone to move into the district and set up business here as well.”

Action like this, with no help from state or federal governments, is unusual but Mayor Phillips said that was not a conscious decision.

“This is an issue that is happening right here right now … the opportunities are very limited for people wanting to obtain homeownership locally which is causing challenges in terms of building that workforce and filling those gaps,” Mayor Phillips said.

“For us, as council, this is something that we can do quite quickly and within our own means to really affect some real change in this space.”

Round 2 of the initiative is underway and those wanting to build can purchase land now with the 90 per cent rebate.

Anyone wanting to purchase one of the turnkey houses will have to wait a bit longer with the council currently in talks with suppliers for the first home.

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