BENDIGO is months away from running out of land for new housing, and there are concerns the city could miss out on "its fair share" of building stimulus money.
A leading developer says it could mean hundreds of Bendigo residents dreaming of a new house could lose out on the federal government's $25,000 HomeBuilder grant, designed to help builders recover from COVID-19.
Birchgrove Property managing director Damien Tangey is urging the federal government to push back the scheme's end date by six months to June 2021 or risk builds across Victoria.
The Bendigo region is particularly short of land, he said.
"We haven't had a significant supply of available land over the past 12 months."
Land developers have been able to produce or are already turning in to homes has already sold, Mr Tangey said.
Victorian developers can often only raise the money they need for new builds by selling land in stages.
"You have to sell it stage by stage and each one needs to be pre-sold. You don't have a lot of stock in the market because you are selling something you have not built yet," Mr Tangey said.
Developers across Bendigo are being inundated with inquiries about building projects as state and federal governments promise as much as $45,000 for some buyers to kick-start builds.
That figure could halve if people have not signed their building contract by 31 December, and who cannot start their build within three months.
"There is a risk people could miss out. Most of the developers in Bendigo have significant waiting lists of people waiting for land," Mr Tangey said.
Some companies have lists that are at least 50 people deep and hundreds of builds could benefit from a HomeBuilder extension, he said.
Scheme designed to stop an immediate crisis: minister
Federal housing minister Michael Sukkar said the grant was deliberately timed to prop the industry exactly when cancelled or postponed projects could have left as many as 500,000 tradies without work.
"The construction industry has made it clear that due to COVID-19 their pipeline of work will dry up from late August," he said.
Mr Tangey understood the government's need to get consumers spending quickly to shore up the economy.
"We've got buyers right now who are willing to do that (spend as soon as possible) but can't find a block of land and therefore sign a contract in time," he said.
The state government is administering the scheme. It has some discretion to change dates for factors outside of builders' control, like delays to building permits.
It would not be able to give out blanket extensions for locations like Bendigo.
A Victorian government spokesperson said the state would work with the federal government to see whether there was scope for any extensions.
Don't expect the rush to end anytime soon
In the meantime, demand for HomeBuilder could continue. More than 37,000 people have so far registered their interest in the program nation-wide.
Bendigo developers currently build around 700 new homes a year for a population that is expected to keep growing even as the crisis plays havoc elsewhere.
A recent Regional Institute of Australia survey found that contrary to popular perceptions, more people were moving out of capital cities than regional people moving in.
The City of Greater Bendigo does not expect COVID-19 to dint demand like it could in Melbourne, where population growth could be affected by international border closures.
Bendigo's population appeared likely to grow despite the crisis as more locked down workers realise they are not tied to their Melbourne office desks, the council's manager of regional sustainable manager Trevor Budge said.
"Really, location is becoming a bit irrelevant," Mr Budge said.
A 2018 survey by advocacy group CLARA found that 37 per cent of Melbournians were very or extremely open to leaving in the next three years. Just under half of them wanted to stay in Victoria.
Mr Budge suspected regional Victorian cities would keep growing even as Melbourne's stagnated.
"If you think about it, almost the entire growth we've seen in Melbourne and Sydney over the past 20 years has actually been overseas migration," Mr Budge said.
"But if you look at almost all Victoria's regional centres - and Bendigo's typical - overseas migration has not been driving our growth."
That is a long term prediction.
Developers currently have their focus on the next six months, where the scramble to meed stimulus demand is only one of the problems they face.
The other is red tape. Mr Tangey said.
Some organisations that need to sign off on planning and building permits will need to work faster, he said.
Mr Tangey said the City of Greater Bendigo and the state government had been good at getting 700 new lots ready for development.
Other authorities and groups may need to give their approvals faster if people are to get their stimulus money, he said.
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