DEVELOPERS have cut back the amount of land they subdivide even as a housing shortage hurts vulnerable people in Bendigo.
It appears to mark the end of a subdivision spike triggered by a surging population and a major redevelopment of the town's hospital, the City of Greater Bendigo's regional development manager Trevor Budge said.
"We are a little surprised by that," he said.
The new hospital might be finished but Bendigo's population is still growing at roughly the same rate it was at the start of the decade.
Nearly 2000 extra people began living in Bendigo in 2018, roughly the same amount seen every year since 2012.
Yet two years ago 737 lots were created in Bendigo, compared to 1856 in 2012.
Less housing builds have been completed, too.
In the 2011-12 financial year 1124 houses were finished, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data compiled by consultancy group .id.
By the 2017-18 that figure had dropped to 766.
Vulnerable people are feeling the squeeze, the council's strategic planner Stacey Poulter said.
"What we are seeing ... is that its placing more pressure on our rental market. The property market right now is incredibly tight. It's hard for people to buy or rent," she said.
The situation has not been helped by AirBNB and similar platforms which often lock affordable houses out of the rental market other trends in the market, Mr Budge said.
"Very few builders are building to rent. If you are a builder and you've borrowed money, rental payments are not the best way to pay off a house. The best way is to flog the new house off and move on to the next one."
The council is also hearing anecdotal evidence of uncertainty among landlords about sweeping changes to the rental system, Mr Budge said.
The state government is gradually introducing the reforms in a bid to try to make them fairer for modern-day tenants and landlords.
"People here are waiting to see what happens with prices. Some are saying there will be growth in prices, others are not so sure," Mr Budge said.
'A generation' of homebuyers hit
It is not just Bendigo or Victoria grappling with housing affordability issues.
It is a problem that has been playing out across the nation for a long time, the Urban Development Institute of Australia said.
"The origins of Australia's housing affordability woes can be traced back to the supply deficiency that accumulated in the lead up to, and throughout the Global Financial Crisis," it said in a report outlining its agenda for 2020.
The "mismatch" between housing demand and supply did not stop after the GFC, even as people got easier access to credit, populations boomed and housing demand kicked back into life, the group said.
"Even at the peak of the construction cycle that followed, housing approvals and construction barely touched the underlying level of demand," it said.
"A generation of homebuyers suffered."
Now, housing markets are at a critical juncture, according to the UDIA.
"Housing approvals are slowing, and development and construction pipelines are thinning - representing a medium term risk to supply," the group said.
The number of houses approved to live in have dropped by 20 per cent since their peak in 2016, Australian Bureau of Statistics data show.
Housing affordability glimmer of hope
That said, there are hopes the housing market might be picking up at a local level.
There were 544 new lots created in Bendigo in the first half of 2019 and there are indications the rate of development might have picked up in the following six months, Mr Budge said.
Some "tentative" signs suggest demand is coming back nationally, the UDIA said.
The price drops seen in Melbourne and Sydney last year have eased.
So have credit flows, which were hit hard as banks clamped down in the wake of a damning royal commission into their practices.
The UDIA is urging the federal government to consider new ways to free up land, remove red and green pate and help reform inefficient planning systems.
In Bendigo, the council has been working with developers on 16 sites that could ease housing affordability and take pressure off growth suburbs on the outskirts of town.
Sites like the old Gillies Pies factory and vacant land never filled in around Bendigo could one day help ease housing pressures.
"The majority of subdivisions are in that big 'roll-out suburbia' style. But there are a lot of variations to it too," Mr Budge said.
Construction has started at sites like the former Central City Caravan Park in Kangaroo Flat and is nearing at others. Little headway has been made at others.
That is because developers can take many years to settle on a plan for how they want to divide land, let alone apply for and get planning approval.
Council approval is just one stage of a process for developers.
That journey can start with a lot of work finding backers and raising money for a project and finish with a state government titles office that sometimes has backlogs of applications, Mr Budge said.
The upshot is that even suburbs the council specifically sets aside for growth can see largely unpredictable spikes and drops in the number of subdivisions taking place from year to year.
Marong, for example, has had the fifth highest number of subdivisions in the four-and-a-half years to July, 2019. Yet 310 of its 325 new lots were created in just one year: 2015.
The developer responsible for that 2015 spike has had plans for new stages of development for some time but only lodged them with the council last year, Mr Budge said.
"So if we had all our 2019 data you would see another 80 lots there," he said.
No matter what year a subdivision happens in, one thing is clear, Mr Budge said: planning is needed for growth to 2050.
"If the population continues like it's been going over the last 10 years, we will see about 180,000 people in urban Bendigo," he said.
That possibility would have ramifications for developers both large and small - and for council officials who need to plan the infrastructure that goes along with new lots.
"We would require another 40,000 dwellings," Mr Budge said.
He said the council would begin work planning for a 2050 Bendigo this year.