ONE in 10 houses in the Hunter Region is vacant most of the time, largely due to the wealthy buying second houses as holiday homes and weekenders, industry experts say.
Expanding Sydney-based middle and upper classes – along with cashed-up baby boomers – are buying many of the properties and pricing out locals, they assert.
The practice is deepening the region’s housing crisis, with a shortage of rental properties, rising rents and a lack of affordable properties.
An underclass of people would be forced to ‘‘rent into their 30s, 40s and 50s’’, Housing Action Network chief executive Tony Gilmour said.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data show almost 10per cent of private dwellings in the Hunter are unoccupied, including holiday homes.
The bureau’s figures indicate this is an increasing and widespread problem, with similar figures across the state and country.
Dr Gilmour said Sydney buyers were snapping up properties in coastal areas such as the Hunter, pricing out locals.
‘‘It’s the affluent city dwellers who can afford to have a second home and pop away for a weekend,’’ Dr Gilmour said.
He said it was ‘‘common to sit around at a dinner party’’ and hear people in Sydney talk about their second properties on the coast.
Real Estate Institute of NSW Hunter chairman Wayne Stewart said the Hunter was ‘‘becoming more of a tourism area’’.
‘‘Newcastle is being seen as a city of lifestyle, with some of the best beaches in the state,’’ Mr Stewart said.
Lake Macquarie councillor Rob Denton said he had noticed many vacant properties.
Cr Denton said empty houses were occurring in areas not known for holiday homes, such as Edgeworth.
‘‘People can do what they want with private property – that’s a cornerstone right in society,’’ Cr Denton said.
‘‘But it’d be nice to see the federal government put tax incentives in place to see some of these properties come into the rental market to provide affordable housing.’’
Mr Stewart said some pensioners who ‘‘own a couple of properties don’t rent them out for fear of losing their pension’’.
Industry experts said a shortage of land releases and planning red tape were constricting housing supply.
The vacant house trend was adding to this problem, Dr Gilmour said.
This caused upward pressure on property prices and further alienates first-home buyers from the market.
‘‘When a property comes on the market, if someone is buying from Sydney the price seems quite reasonable by their standards,’’ Dr Gilmour said.
‘‘They come in with their dollars and the locals can’t compete.’’
Mr Stewart said many people were buying property for family and holiday purposes in Newcastle CBD.
He said Newcastle was a university city and ‘‘a lot buy units and small cottages for their children’’.
‘‘It’s putting pressure on first-home buyers because the houses would otherwise go to them.’’