TTwo winters ago my evening dip at Port Fairy East Beach was framed by a backdrop of empty, dark vacation homes. I could park in a parking space in front of the front door of the supermarket. And to some extent, these things still applied in the winter of 2021, but there were some notable differences. The town’s two primary schools are at full capacity. Long term rentals and homes for sale are rare. The lights are on.

In some ways, Port Fairy, three and a half hours west of Melbourne, offers a useful study of what’s going on in coastal towns all along the east coast.

Beach houses on South Beach. Photograph: Joanne O’Keefe / The Guardian

In other respects, it is an outlier. Let’s start with the typical. It is not a particularly young place: it is home to 3,500 people, most of whom according to the last census are in the 60-69 age group. The gates, since the 1800s, have been built for the five foot Irish. There are two primary schools and one kindergarten, but no secondary school. The voting histories of its underlying federal and state electorates are heavily conservative.

But then there are the atypical elements. It is the talkative display in a large county which is otherwise made up of small, quiet farming communities. He’s wealthy, almost fully employed, and has a busy schedule.

During this time, a gradual process of gentrification has occurred: first from the internet, then from sea changers and now from Covid teleworkers.

The original idea of ​​”changing the sea” has been supplanted. It was a question of sacrificing a career in town for another in the region, often less well paid. The current iteration is physical movement, supported by professional continuity. We are all at work, everywhere.

Gary Lockett, Port Fairy real estate agent.
Gary Lockett, Port Fairy real estate agent. Photograph: Joanne O’Keefe / The Guardian

Young couples are moving in, along with mid-career pros who have realized they can handle their jobs from here and enjoy a surf before work. Real estate prices are skyrocketing in response.

Local agent Garry Lockett remembers homes were listed for six to 12 months, but things changed after the first foreclosure of 2020.

“We sold 17 in a month – it would normally be four or five. We have maintained 40-45 listings for 40 years now. We have six today: it is very easy to run out of stock.

Buyers are haggling on the rise. “Everyone thinks they’re people from Melbourne,” he says. “But 60% are from the neighborhood. Then there are Melbourne and Ballarat. They are generally neither interstate nor international.

Perhaps the traditional dream of an urban base and a coastal weekend is falling apart: chipped dishes and seagrass rugs won’t be enough now that a coastal home has to be a workplace and an Airbnb as well as a part-time home. Housing must bear its own economic weight.

Rental and sales markets are tight. According to builder and developer Michael Hearn, the supply at Port Fairy is the worst it has ever been. “There may be a block or two of vacant land, ready to build, and their prices are inflated. And there are maybe 10 family homes under a million dollars.

To put this in perspective, the median price of homes in Port Fairy is currently around $ 776,000. That of Byron Bay is at 2.8 million dollars. But the two cities share a common problem: if you want a coastal community to be a community, not a hollowed-out shell, you need vital people in lower paying roles. The average salary for a registered nurse in Australia is around $ 70,000. For a police officer or an elementary school teacher, it is more between $ 80,000 and $ 90,000. Monthly repayments over $ 800,000 are approximately $ 3,000 per month. So, assuming you saved a deposit, there is $ 36,000, after tax, accrued each year. Before eating.

Bailey Nolan *, 31, grew up in the city and considers it his home. But he and his partner can no longer afford to live here. They have been renting for 18 months as they try to buy. Bailey works in education support, so the numbers above are close to his reality. “I am angry that I cannot enter the market,” he says. “It’s weird. I am out of my own city. Although he accepts that tourists are the main industry in the city, he cannot name a single friend who has been able to shop in the city in the past two years.

Land for sale sign for a new pocket of blocks near South Beach.
A land for sale sign for a new pocket of blocks near South Beach. Photograph: Joanne O’Keefe / The Guardian

The recent price spikes have been so sudden that young people who have been saving for years find that prices are rising faster than they are saving. They move further and further away from their goal. Bailey and her partner put off having children until they know their home is secure.

There are several people I know for whom this is a daily reality, and not all of them are young. Some have lived in cities for decades but now find the rates too expensive, given their skyrocketing valuations. Do we accept that such people, even those born and raised in the community, have to live in and commute in cheaper satellite towns? Leaving aside the loss of a sense of belonging, Port Fairy has no local public transport (there are regional buses), a handful of taxis, and no carpooling. Should we fall back on a heavy dependence on the car?

Charlie and Bella Mckinnon with their two children.
Charlie and Bella Mckinnon with their two children. Photograph: Joanne O’Keefe / The Guardian

Michael Hearn has his own solution: “The government acquires farmland around the township line, say 500 acres, and you allocate X acres for recreation, sustainability, etc., then Y acres for houses. And you develop a rent-to-own model – it keeps investors out – and young couples can only resell in the same pool. “

Geelong couple Charlie and Bella Mackinnon moved into their family’s vacation home last year. They have two preschool children and Bella is on maternity leave. Covid had forced Charlie to work from home. “Port Fairy has always been very welcoming,” says Bella. “Living here full time for a year allowed us to forge deeper bonds with the locals. Plus, for Charlie, working from home adds a different context – it’s not just about relaxation and vacation vibes. “

Bella agrees that the presence of transplant families is changing Port Fairy. “The availability of houses for rent, the increased demand for daycares, kindergartens and schools, the queues in cafes – this must irritate the locals, but on the other hand, it supports businesses. local. There are clearly pros and cons. “

Port Fairy Lighthouse on Griffiths Island.
Port Fairy Lighthouse on Griffiths Island. Photograph: Joanne O’Keefe / The Guardian

Charlie doubts it would have been possible to move here five years ago. “Three things are true now that weren’t then: technology makes it possible to work from home, Covid has forced businesses to accept working from home and it has forced families to change how and where they live and working. “

Damian and Bree Ryan have also moved to town, with three children aged 11 to 5. But in their case, it’s the great outdoors outside the city they’re looking for, not the city blocks themselves.

“Last July, our employers changed our jobs to work remotely,” says Damian, “so we no longer had to quit to move. We have a long term rental here, and there will be a second phase where we will buy here. We think we have settled in permanently now. Having children helped them integrate. Bree quit her job in town and now works locally, and she takes care of Parents & Friends, basketball and Nippers, while Damian contributes to cricket and football.

“Even though we’re all called back to the office at some point, I might be commuting a few days a week. The train (to Melbourne) is fantastic. The data is good, I can do a lot of things in three hours.

“We’re not changing the city… The community of Port Fairy is strong enough to absorb people like us. “

Bill Millard is the Managing Director of Moyne Shire. He says these trends have been on council’s radar since 2019. “The housing market is different now,” he says. “There has been an acceleration of pressure on housing across the region. “

He says long-term rental vacancy rates in June were 0.2% in Port Fairy and 0.0% and 0.5% in nearby towns of Mortlake and Koroit. “Below 2% is considered a tight market, requiring additional supply to meet demand. Long-term data shows Moyne is regularly under-supplied.

There are projects going on, he says. “In the short term, we are trying to influence the accommodation of the summer workforce and are considering incentives for people living in larger blocks to speed up subdivisions, and in the longer term, l ‘acceleration of zoning changes, land release and better use of government land. ” Millard says affordability is considered “reasonable” in Mortlake, “marginal” in Koroit and “extreme” in Port Fairy, where supply is “extremely scarce”.

There is nothing more vital to the well-being of a city than the welcome it reserves for foreigners. An unwelcoming city is a closed circle, and it will wither away. Property is a free market, and those with the advantage have the right to make hay. But like the fool who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, we risk losing the very things that made the place wonderful if we seek them out.

* Not his real name.

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