Burke Shire Council helping Indigenous residents become homeowners

Published: 10th May 2022

The housing market can be tough to break into for many people—but it’s especially tough when you’re the third generation of your family in State housing, living in the isolated Gulf Country, where buying a home often means coming up with a 60 per cent deposit.

Burke Shire Council is helping its community break the cycle with a unique partnership that’s making the seemingly impossible prospect of home ownership a reality.

Burke Shire has 340-odd residents across two townships—Burketown and Gregory—with most land in the region owned by Council or affiliates of the Aboriginal Land Council. Just a handful of properties are privately owned, leading to severe housing shortages.

“You never get any new developments or any new buildings here,” explained Burke Shire Council CEO, Dan Mckinlay.

“It’s so expensive to build because of our remoteness—we’re in the middle of a desert, surrounded by four rivers and salt flats.”

On the rare occasions housing stock does come up for sale, banks typically request exorbitant deposits, owing to the region’s isolation, and this frequently thwarts any attempts at purchasing.

Recognising the chronic housing shortage and being in a position to divest some of its housing stock, Burke Shire Council devised an arrangement to sell off some of its homes to council staff, most of whom are Indigenous, as a first step in alleviating housing pressures.

Agreeing to sell the homes with a 40 per cent reduction in price, Council, in partnership with Headstart Homes and Westpac, was able to create a pathway for staff to obtain a home loan with no need for a deposit or mortgage insurance.

“We had an independent valuer come in and value all of the council-owned homes, and Council agreed to have a 40 per cent reduction just to help staff get over the line,” Mr Mckinlay said.

“So what that means is because we’ve reduced the valuation—a fair valuation—the banks weren’t requiring a deposit, so it made it much easier for the staff to get their mortgage across.”

He adds that a lot of ducks had to be in a row for it to happen, beginning with a ministerial exemption to be able to divest the properties, followed by council approving the plan, finding a financier, preparing staff with budgets and credit ratings, and more.

“Westpac have been extremely good… [and] McCullough Robertson [solicitors] did the deals pro bono for staff… which was fantastic,” Mr Mckinlay said.

Maddy Marshall, Burke Shire Council’s 26-year-old Corporate Services and Governance Manager, along with her sister Jordan, 29, are the first to be approved for home ownership through the pathway in Burketown, after receiving approval of their Westpac home loans.

“I’m very excited! My sister Jordan and I are the first in our family to be homeowners and we never thought this would happen,” Maddy said.

“To have the opportunity to go through the process and buy a home in our hometown has been wonderful.”

Maddy and Jordan have been renting a council house together for the past eight years.

“We didn’t grow up seeing our people owning their own homes and it just goes to show that anything is possible if you work for it,” Maddy said.

Mr Mckinlay said home ownership is a big deal for these two young women.

“Aboriginal home ownership is extremely low across Australia and in remote communities like ours, home ownership—even things like car ownership—is much more of a challenge,” he said.

“Maddy and Jordan are both what I call as being ‘in the cycle’. Their grandma and granddad lived in town all their lives in a State house. He worked for Council for years and their mum and dad are in a State house.

Every generation of their family has lived in State homes all of their lives.

“When you own your own home, you have so much more pride in your place, so this is a monumental change for them to be owning their own homes for the first time. It’s a big deal.

“As it turns out, the mortgage payments are less than the rent they had been paying Council. Although, they have had to learn all about budgeting for paying rates, home and contents insurance, and general household bills.”

A third staff member has now been able to purchase a home through the scheme, with a fourth not too far away, and Mr Mckinlay hopes more will be able to get over the line soon.

A win for council and the broader region

Mr Mckinlay said the selling of the homes was a win for Council, the new homeowners, and the broader community.

“The properties are not brand-new properties,” Mr Mckinlay said.

“Council gets rid of the maintenance on the properties, and we also start to collect rates, so it’s a win for everyone.

“It’s a win for staff who have taken them up and it’s a win for Council not having to pay insurance and maintenance, which will increase as they get older.”

With income from rates on the homes now coming in, Council will be able to invest more into housing for Burke Shire, benefitting the community as a whole.

While the scheme is in its infancy, it has already been a huge success. Just ask the Marshall sisters.

LGAQ advocacy on housing

The LGAQ recognises that housing is a critical issue for councils and communities in all parts of Queensland, and the first initiative in our Housing Action Plan calls for a National Housing Summit. We will keep you updated on developments.