Imagine a nursing home sitting completely empty in the middle of a housing crisis.

That was the case in Stansbury on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, as the town’s nursing home had been sold to a private owner and had sat empty for the better part of four years.

Meanwhile, the town’s publican Rob Rankine was struggling to find a place for his workers to live.

Mr Rankine said he thought one problem could solve the other.

“The pub does get very busy and acquiring staff is a never-ending problem,” Mr Rankine said.

“Over the last five years, since the advent of Airbnb, there are less permanent rentals.

Rob Rankine needed housing for his workers, so when he saw the local nursing home was vacant, he “took the jump and spoke to the owner”. (ABC North & West SA: Viki Ntafillis)

“It’s great for our business; we have lots of people in the town, but we struggle to find places for our staff to live.”

The Eldercare nursing home in Stansbury was sold to an overseas buyer in November 2020. Eldercare declined to comment on the sale. 

Mr Rankine said before he leased the property, the building was attracting crime.

“Intruders were coming in, and people were smashing windows and doing whatever they wanted,” he said.

“There was this enormous building in the town that could house people, so I just took the jump and spoke to the owner.

“There’s not a communal living room in each wing, so it’s been quite difficult to work out how we house individual families, when most of the wings are like community areas.”

Mr Rankine has since leased the nursing home and it now houses some of his workers and others in the community who need a place to live.

About 18 residents currently reside in the home.

Empty rooms, people to fill them

Apprentice chef Mia Harris was originally making a 20-minute commute from Minlaton to Stansbury to work at Mr Rankine’s pub.

When he offered Ms Harris one of the former assisted living units to rent last October, it was a fortunate and obvious solution to her travel problems.

Mia Harris lives in one of the units that was once used as assisted living accommodation at the old nursing home in Stansbury.(ABC North & West SA: Viki Ntafillis)

“I just found it more convenient; I didn’t have to drive back and forth, so it was also saving me a lot of money,” Ms Harris said.

“There’s just nowhere around, there’s no places for this part of the Yorke Peninsula … not even in Minlaton.

“I’m very happy to have the opportunity to live here, it’s an amazing little unit.

“It’s great to have that independence especially when the younger generation, like me, get to go out there and have even just a little unit, to have your own space.”

Father-of-six ‘relieved’

Stansbury local Gary Bowden, his wife and six children were forced to leave their rental late last year when the owner decided to sell.

Mr Bowden said it was “extremely hard” to find housing for his family-of-eight in the area.


Gary Bowden and his family were considering living in a tent before accommodation at the nursing home became available. (ABC North & West: Annabel Francis)

“We were just trying to grasp at everything, knocking on empty houses, just trying to find something,” he said.

“Our only option at the end of the day was the caravan park.

“The stress was astronomical; packing and moving, having to put stuff in storage that’s still in storage, trying to keep the kids calm.

“Tents and caravan parks, we were sort of getting to.”

This is the tent Mr Bowden and his family were planning to live in before accommodation became available. (Supplied: Gary Bowden)

Mr Bowden said he was “relieved” when Mr Rankine offered the family a place to stay in the nursing home.

“All the kids had their own room, a big space and didn’t have to stress for a while,” he said.

“It’s given us stability.

“The government needs to bring in more public housing in these local towns; there’s a lot of people around that have no housing, there’s a lot of people on the beach … there needs to be more.”

Yorke Peninsula Council Mayor Darren Braund says only about 0.3 per cent of rental homes in his council area are available.

Darren Braund says communities throughout the area are struggling with the same accommodation issue. (ABC North & West: Annabel Francis )

“We have about 45 little communities in the York Peninsula, and each of them are struggling with the same issue,” Mayor Braund said.

“While 50 per cent of our houses are holidays houses, there’s nowhere really to live.

“I know lots of young families who are looking for housing and also organisations who are trying to recruit staff to the area find it very, very difficult to find accommodation for their staff.

“I think there needs to be an incentive, particularly for those who own holidays houses, to have long-term rentals.”

Potential solutions out west

In Western Australia, the state government has implemented two schemes to convince more people to convert their holiday homes or vacant properties to long-term rentals.

The Short Rental Accommodation Incentive Scheme Incentive Scheme offers $10,000 to owners who do not reside at their short-term rental properties to convert them to long-term rentals for at least 12 months.

A WA government spokesperson said, “207 properties have been returned to the long-term rental market” since the scheme began in November 2023.

The nursing home at Stansbury once housed up to 44 residents. (ABC North & West SA: Viki Ntafillis)

Their second scheme, the Vacant Property Rental Incentive Scheme, offers $5,000 to owners whose properties have been vacant for six months to convert them to long-term rentals for 12 months, with applications closing on November 6.

An SA government spokesperson says that “vacancy rates in South Australia are incredibly low” and the issue is particularly acute in regions where often there are zero rental vacancies.

“As a government, we are making significant investments to improve housing in the regions.

“Work is well underway to deliver 35 new homes for key workers across seven regional towns and the Office for Regional Housing is currently assessing 30 submissions for the $10 million Regional Housing Initiatives Program.

“Recently, the state government has created the Department for Housing and Urban Development. A role of the new department will be to explore all options to increase housing supply levels in SA. 

“This includes assessing the merits and success of initiatives in other jurisdictions.”