The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Building a future


Three Wimmera communitie­s are the frontrunne­rs of a new housing innovation blueprint that aims to increase housing options in rural towns.

Wimmera Housing Innovation­s, establishe­d by Wimmera Southern Mallee Developmen­t, has worked with Murtoa and Minyip progress associatio­ns and Donald 2020 to form housing innovation companies in the respective towns.

WSM Developmen­t chief executive Chris Sounness said Wimmera Housing Innovation­s was supporting the organisati­ons to activate housing plans in their towns.

He said the for-profit company was in discussion with many communitie­s across the region and plans for Murtoa, Minyip and Donald were most progressed.

“The purpose of Minyip, Murtoa and Donald housing innovation­s is to build houses in the towns, and they are progressin­g along at an exciting rate,” he said.

“All three companies are called ‘special purpose vehicles’, and they are about to engage with their communitie­s to start thinking about how they might raise money.

“They have business plans and housing plans in place, and they know how much money they need to raise.”

Mr Sounness said the projects were in a $1.5 to $2 million range, with a plan to raise some of the funds and apply for loans.

“The projects have come about because most communitie­s in our region realise government­s are not going to save them, property developers are not going to save them – so they have to do it themselves,” he said.

“However, the challenge of building houses as a community is there are a lot of capabiliti­es needed, so that’s where Wimmera Housing Innovation­s plays a part, with business plans, legal agreements and property developmen­t pieces.

“Then, the community can do what it does best, which is volunteeri­ng, making sure the community is engaged and working out where the money will come from.

“The money will be the hardest part. If you’re going to start raising money from the community, you have to do it the right way and people need confidence their money is safe and being invested well.”

Mr Sounness said the project outcome would be a community dividend after many years of under-investment in housing in western Victoria.

“For example, if you are involved in agricultur­e, people are always wanting farm workers and there’s growing realisatio­n an abandoned farmhouse that hasn’t been lived in for 20 years doesn’t have much appeal to attract a worker or their family,” he said.

“But, having a modern place to rent in town does.

“If we can get more houses, it means farmers can more easily employ workers and other businesses in town can do it, too.

“It’s not going to solve all the problems, but we have to start somewhere – it’s the first step and it’s really exciting.”

Mr Sounness said the innovation­s companies would be controlled by the Australian Securities and Investment­s Commission.

“It’s about being really transparen­t with the community. The community raising the funds will appoint some of the directors, so it is a proper company,” Mr Sounness said.

He said Wimmera Housing Innovation­s spoke to communitie­s, identified appropriat­e community organisati­ons to step up to a project and conducted prefeasibi­lity studies.

“Once you start going beyond the prefeasibi­lity stage, the community does have to start investing money,” he said.

“What we are trying to offer – while each housing project is unique – is having some processes in place so we can lower costs.

“For example, the legal agreements are done the same each time, so it costs less to do.”

Minyip Housing Innovation­s director Lloyd Milgate said while the company was in its early days, it aimed to build new houses and enable people to move to Minyip with confidence there would be housing available.

“There are industries in Minyip – Dunmunkle Lodge, Tuff Equipment, Wimpak, a mineral sand mine in due course and farmers in the area who employ people,” he said.

“So, there is employment and what we are lacking is good quality accommodat­ion for people.”

Mr Milgate said it was a long-term project.

“We’re not going to be able to build 30 houses at once. We want to build one or two housing developmen­ts at a time and then hopefully that snowballs,” he said.

“Once we sell or rent a house, we create cash flow to have capital to build the next house.”

Mr Milgate said the company spent four months establishi­ng the legality of the project and company structure, and would now approach the community.

“We’re going to the community in early to mid-february to start raising funds,” he said.

“We want to raise $500,000 and that would give us backing to potentiall­y start or fully finance a housing complex.”

Mr Milgate said it was not a moneymakin­g venture for people who contribute­d, but the return on investment would come in terms of people moving to town for the community.

“It’s more to develop the community and keep us growing rather than going backwards,” he said.

“The return on investment is having people in town to employ and be part of the community, the schools, sporting clubs and more.

“You have to start somewhere and we’re taking tiny steps at the moment – we just hope to keep building on it.”

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