Despite mining boom, Australian housing market locks out high-earners


Giant mining trucks and excavators are submerged as flood waters devastate much of Brisbane, the capital of Queensland state, on Jan. 13, 2011. Australia's third-largest city awoke to a "'war zone" with whole suburbs under water and infrastructure smashed as the worst flood in decades caused wide destruction.


Torsten Blackwood

By Australian standards, $2,000 a week is a livable income.

And thanks largely to Australia's mining boom, many a young, hardworking Aussie can afford more than they'd ever dreamed... just not a place to sleep, it seems.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reports that a surprising number of workers in the mining town on Gladstone, Queensland — in the country's northeast — can no longer afford to pay the exorbitant rents being asked by a dwindling supply of landlords.

According to the ABC:

Latest figures show vacancy rates for rental properties in Gladstone are down to just 0.6 per cent, and one community worker says many people are resorting to living out of their cars and in makeshift camps.

Quoted is Daryl Bartrim, a tradesman who recently moved to Gladstone is search of construction work. 

While he has found plenty of high-paid employment as a reward, Bartrim is "living out of his car at a makeshift camp." Bartrim told the ABC that in this boom town in Australia's boom state, even a tent site costs $130 a night "if you can get one."

The miners, he says, "are coming in, pushing everyone out and that's what causing a lot of trouble."

A recent homeless census by the Mental Illness Fellowship of Queensland, meanwhile, found that there was "a huge problem" in the area, study participant Julie McLean says.

"We have a tent and caravan village at Calliope River, we have people sleeping rough in cars, I met a whole family doing the homeless census living under a bridge and young people everywhere.

And these, it seems, are the people with good jobs.

"The worst part of the situation appears to be that the majority of these people are working and homeless because we just don't have the infrastructure here to carry the amount of people coming to Gladstone for work."

The report comes at a time when the Australian economy — which barely dipped in the face of the recent global economic downturn — is reportedly doing better than ever, recording higher-than-expected economic growth for the second quarter despite floods and cyclones early this year.

Reuters quoted Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan as saying Wednesday that: "Today's [GDP] result confirmed that the economy has rebounded strongly from last summer's floods and cyclones, with exports starting to recover and inventories being rebuilt." 

It is demand from China and India for Australian minerals and energy, which according to the AP "carried Australia through the global financial crisis with only two quarters of contraction, the first in December 2008," that is largely responsible for the current good fortunes of workers like Bartrim.

However, MacLean tells the ABC: "We've got people that are earning $2,000 a week and after tax and they cannot get themselves a house. There's no housing and what housing there is here has been bought up by the industry here, has been rented by industry here, you can't get a motel room in Gladstone, all of the motels are fully booked out by industry for their workers, so people have nowhere to go."

The state member for Gladstone, independent Liz Cunningham, meantime, predicts worse to come, saying in an interview that:

"Many people that have rental properties have been contacted by real estate agents and others, encouraging them to put the rent up and most have done that, not all but most. Caravan parks have been cleared out of there permanence to put workers accommodation in.

Some pressure might come off once the workers camps are completed and I think when the workers have moved into those workers camps there will be some relief. But it's the people who are hurting now and in the next six months or so that should have been helped."