New shadow housing minister Steve Martin has come out swinging at his Labor counterparts, accusing the McGowan Government of putting the “handbrake” on regional economies by ignoring the housing crisis. Housing shortages continue to cripple regional communities, including in Albany where the 0.5 per cent rental vacancy rate is the lowest in the State and families are being forced to live in caravans or pile into relatives’ homes. Rental pressures come as Albany’s public housing waitlist hit 456 general applications at the end of February, of which 87 were priority, according to the Department of Communities. First-time MLC Mr Martin, the sole Liberal MP elected in the Agricultural region, is demanding an immediate plan from the State Government. “This shouldn’t have snuck up on anyone,” he said. “I would assume the State Government have either not known about this — which is not good enough — or has known about it and decided to not do anything about it. “Minister (John) Carey needs to let us know immediately what the solution is. “They are sitting on an enormous surplus at the moment, billions of dollars, and West Australians are very anxious about putting a roof over their head. “I believe Albany got down to less than 20 available rentals recently ...in a City of well over 30,000 that’s alarming.” Mr Martin said regional economies had kept the State afloat throughout the COVID-19 crisis but could not continue to do so without adequate housing for workers. “It would be an enormous shame if our regional towns, cities and economies had the handbrake applied because we simply couldn’t house the workers we need to keep the economy strong,” he said. However Housing Minister John Carey said the State Government’s $20,000 building bonus grants, increases to Keystart and Regional Land Booster package had resulted in the “strongest growth in number of building approvals in the year to February in 31 years”. “I am acutely aware of the supply challenges we face in the property market,” he said. He said building approvals in the six months to February this year showed 219 new home building applications were approved in the City of Albany, compared to 72 in the six months prior. “As these new homes enter the market, we expect to see easing on supply pressures, particularly on rentals,” he said. Mr Carey said more than 20 new social housing properties were scheduled to be built in the Great Southern with construction beginning soon on seven properties. More than 20 existing social housing properties will undergo major refurbishments. But Mr Martin was sceptical, saying pressure on the building industry was at its peak. “Let’s see them hit the ground. Twenty doesn’t help the 450-odd on the waitlist in the Great Southern to any great extent,” Mr Martin said.