Addressing the Housing Crisis
Ensuring All Community Members Can Access Stable and Affordable Housing
We believe having a roof over your head is a fundamental human right. Everyone deserves to have their basic needs met.
However, here in the Byron Shire, having somewhere safe and secure to sleep at night is becoming more of a privilege than a right. It is a privilege many locals simply cannot afford and it is tearing at the fabric of our community.
Over the last 18 months housing availability and hence affordability has gone beyond crisis point. Urgent and focused attention is required without delay.
Too many of our key workers, long-term locals and most vulnerable community members are being left behind. We need to up the ante and demand the State government work with us to provide meaningful support and change.
Our team is committed to addressing this emergency on the ground by managing the short-term needs and facilitating the long-term solutions required.
The Challenges We Face
The Byron community is richly diverse and this is part of what makes Byron such a desirable place to live, and to visit. Over the last 7 years, the transformation of our residential areas into tourist accommodation now sees more short-term lets available than long-term ones.
Around 3500 ‘entire home’ residential dwellings are advertised on short-term letting platforms in our Shire. This out of a total pool of approximately 16,000 dwellings. The AirBnB trend continues and many other regional areas popular with tourists are starting to look to Byron for answers as their struggle grows with the issue.
Covid has redefined the landscape in many ways, but in Byron the biggest impact has not been from the pandemic, but rather from the relocation of newcomers to our region. This has seen further displacement of our community, disproportionate hikes in rents and an horrendous lack of residential properties. Often over one hundred eager renters will attend inspections, with reports of fights breaking out and gazumping behaviour as people fight for their right to live here. With such fierce competition, landlords often encouraged by agents, go for the ‘ideal’ tenant, no kids, no pets, high double incomes. We take great pride in our community being a safe haven for people with a diversity of needs, but that safe haven is an increasingly distant memory for so many.
With current housing demands, many people have found themselves going without. Faced with no other viable option, many have resorted to sleeping in their vehicles. Tragically, this includes a number of families, which poses real safety concerns, particularly for single mothers and their children. Many more long-term members and contributors to our community have been out priced and forced away.
This is only getting worse and it is clear that we have not seen the peak of this crisis given the trend data on the issue. Summer is booked out like never before in our town, business is ready to boom but with accommodation being such a challenge, our ability to fulfil this demand is compromised. Most local businesses are already struggling to find staff, with many workers forced to move on, unable to afford any of the few available properties.
What we plan to do
We are not alone in this crisis, with all regional areas up and down the coast and increasingly inland, suffering from the same issues. This is a strong collective voice and has seen the State Government respond with a 20 year Housing Strategy and a regional housing taskforce. State government has a key role to play in addressing this crisis and it is essential they empower Councils like Byron Shire who have put forward viable solutions.
Byron has proposed a Community Land Trust as a model to lock in affordability. This mechanism allows us, as a community, to retain the value of any land included in the Trust, in perpetuity for our community. As such, dwellings built on this land are protected against speculation and capital gains in land and remain affordable in the long-term.
To address the current crisis, we believe at least 2,000 lots need to be placed into the Trust within the decade. While this target is ambitious, we have already identified several potential sites. Council-owned Lot 22 in Mullumbimby could provide up to 300 homes and the old hospital site in Mullumbimby has also been flagged for inclusion.
A SEPP 70 contributions scheme is being worked through, which when enacted will require 20% of all new residential subdivisions to be dedicated to the Land Trust. This works because of the exceptionally high land values in Byron. While the Community Land Trust will help create long-term affordability, we understand that short-term solutions are also required.
In August, Mayor Michael Lyon moved a motion to provide emergency accommodation to those who are in insecure housing or at risk of homelessness but can afford to pay rent. We plan to progress this application and attempt to replicate it elsewhere while continuing to challenge what short-term housing solutions could look like.
We are also exploring a proposal to place clusters of tiny homes along the disused rail corridor. This could be done without impacting the usability of the track and turned around in under a year. Again, this boils down to working with the State Government to get the job done.
Sama Balson and the Women’s Village Collective
Byron Independents team member, Sama Balson, is a key voice in housing crisis solutions. A passionate advocate for social justice, she is the Founder of the Women’s Village Collective, a not-for-profit organisation committed to tackling the crisis.
First moving to the area in 1998, Sama returned to Byron a few years ago to be closer to family. With three generations living in the Shire, she feels a strong connection to both the region and the community and what she saw when she returned shocked her.
“Seeing community members being driven out and unable to find accommodation was a real call to action. The Byron I came back to wasn’t the Byron I remembered. When I first moved here, you could simply walk into a real estate agent and rent a place to live” Sama says.
She recounts a particular story of a single parent with a baby being rejected from a rental property – and how this is tragically not uncommon. As a sole parent herself, she empathises with the challenges this presents and is committed to making a difference.
“It all began in August 2020 with a call out via a local Facebook Group. Since then the Collective has grown into a network of 3,600 group members, most of whom are women based in the Northern Rivers. WVC is now a Public Company, Limited by Guarantee, with a Board of Directors.”
Sama says this scale and structure helps the Collective to make a real difference within the community. Stating that it’s a movement “by the people, for the people” the group is actively helping keep Byron’s social fabric together, being elected to Council would be a natural shift in gears, making sure the community has a seat at the table.
“My role with the Collective has seen me working closely with the Mayor and with Council over the last 12 months. Being elected to Council would mean I would be at the table and part of the decision making process, to help drive real change from the inside and be a voice advocating for this diverse community.”
Electing Sama to Council will bring additional focus to the need for affordable housing. It would send a clear message from the community to the State government that Byron Shire means business.
“The State government definitely knows who we are. Like any grassroots movement, the Women’s Village Collective understands that our strength lies in our numbers. When enough voices are asking for the same thing, people have to listen.” Sama says.
This is the point. We are going to have to collectively rise up and demand action from the State Government before we lose one of the most important things that makes Byron so special, its community.
Join us Wednesday the 24th of November at 7:30pm – 9pm for another Policy Focus Online Event for Housing where we will inform the community about what plans are already in place and what we plan to implement for the future, and to answer any questions you may have.
We look forward to seeing you all there!
Find out more here.