Newcastle Census figures show 18 per cent of homes empty

THERE might be many reasons why 18 per cent of the homes in the 2300 postcode were empty when Census figures were collected in August last year, compared to 10 per cent of empty homes across the rest of NSW.

There might have been a Knights home game on so people were at the stadium.

They might have been out savouring the beauty of the Newcastle coastline at night, eating out or enjoying a holiday.

But a figure of 18 per cent – quite high when it translates to nearly one in five houses sitting empty – might be because they're investment properties, which is why it’s an issue for the community for different reasons.

Empty houses can be a security risk and an added responsibility for neighbours when things go wrong.

Just as important is that empty houses are an affront in a society with worrying homelessness levels and troubling housing affordability trends that worsen with every year that passes.

They’re a symbol of an Australian housing landscape where contributing elements are out of balance, and government policies are failing to address the problem.

The figures come from a Fairfax Media analysis of Census data which found there were 100,000 underused houses across NSW and Victoria.

Figures from Census night in 2011 showed there were 105,237 people classed as homeless at that time, with the figure including people living with others on a temporary basis, living in insecure or short-term boarding arrangements, or living in supported accommodation for the homeless.

It found 6 per cent of that figure represented people living in the rough or on the streets.

Governments are suggesting taxes on vacant properties to force investors to make them available for rent.

It is a proposal that is quickly hosed down by powerful development lobby groups as an added burden, in addition to recent clamp-downs on investor lending by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Its moves were intended to reduce the heat on an investor market fuelled by negative gearing and capital gains tax benefits that are unavailable to owner occupier first home buyers.

Newcastle is an attractive city for investors and residents, but those empty houses on Census night is a worrying sign.

Issue: 38,574.