BRUTAL rental prices in Chinchilla threatened to turn the local showground into a tent city last year but now local real estate agents are struggling to fill streets of vacant homes.
There are currently more than 200 empty rentals in Chinchilla, accounting for an 18% vacancy rate.
Local mum Rita Rice and her young family moved into their Cole St home in 2011 and, this year, they are relishing the lower rent.
Their four-bedroom home peaked at $515/week in June 2013 and has since plummeted to $450/week.
"I would definitely suggest others speak to their agents to make sure they are getting the best deal they can for their family," she said.
Surat Basin Real Estate director Warren Daniells agreed now was the time to secure low prices with long-term leases.
"There's more stock in the local rental market today," he said.
"It would be a smart move to lock in for as long as possible at these rates because they're not going to stay there."
Mr Daniells predicted rents would increase again within 12 months as local CSG projects rolled into operational phases.
"That's when we will see more long-term jobs and careers established in the industry which will entice families to the area," he said.
Elders Real Estate Chinchilla principal Tess Bourke agreed now was the perfect time for families to shop around for rentals.
"Because of poor housing availability in town, a lot of people were in houses that didn't suit their needs," she said.
"Now there's a good opportunity to find something that suits them perfectly."
Chinchilla Community, Commerce and Industry president Rob Hart said the more manageable rents were a "necessary correction" in the market after it experienced "extraordinary and unprecedented growth and demand" with the CSG industry boom.
"The advantage of having ready housing availability is that, unlike the previous three years, rental stock is becoming more affordable and available for local Chinchilla people," he said.
MILES RENTS STILL COSTLY
WHILE their Chinchilla neighbours celebrate falling rents and a buffet of available housing options, Miles locals are keeping their belts tight.
Despite the 91 rental houses being available, only six cost less than $400/week.
Murilla Community Centre manager Cecily Brockhurst said she had 45 groups waiting for affordable housing.
Mrs Brockhurst said $400/week was unachievable for the diverse range of people on the social and community housing list.
"Most can't possibly live in a one-bedroom, one- bathroom apartment and that's all that's available under $400," she said.
"Families can't afford to pay more than $300/week."
Housing availability in Miles, albeit expensive, has been bolstered by Origin Energy's movement of a small number of staff from rental homes into camps and temporary accommodation.
A spokesman for Origin said the movement came as construction in Miles was completed and more camp rooms became available.
The opening of the Swagsman Inn, and the Royal Motel, as well as The Eastwood - a 200-bed accommodation village - should also ease demand.
VACANT HOMES READY FOR NEXT WAVE OF WORKERS
EMPTY houses across the region have some revelling at bargain rental prices but Mayor Ray Brown hopes they will soon be occupied by families of CSG operations and maintenance staff.
Workers have become scarcer across the Surat Basin as CSG construction projects wrap up but Cr Brown wants the next wave of workers to stick around.
"There are always peaks and troughs in the real estate market and I would like to see a lot of the empty houses filled by families who are going to stick around," he said.
"Operations and maintenance phases are more long term so I would like to see more initiatives introduced to entice these workers and their wives, husbands and children to move to the area."
As chairman of the Western Downs Affordable Housing Trust, Cr Brown said empty homes would soon be ready for service workers in Chinchilla, Wandoan, Miles and Tara.
"Our aim is to get a roof over people's heads," he said.
"But we do have to be mindful we don't keep building accommodation when there aren't enough renters for what's available."
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