The other day on Gumtree someone posted a one-bedroom cabin for rent in Mullumbimby for 485 bucks a week. Wow, was it state-of-the-art, architect designed, fully furnished?… Nope. It’s rustic settler cottage style.
Now I know this look is big with the breadboard set but hang on, did I miss the memo? Aren’t we regional? Last time I checked, we don’t earn that much. Well, at least most of the people in the rental market. I’m not talking about the trust-fund babies who roll in from the eastern suburbs of Sydney buying up cafes and beachfront property like it’s a new street on Monopoly.
I’m talking about the daily reality for those people who serve our coffee, who cook our food, who clean our shit, who fix our cars, or do our hair, or wax our punamis, who work in shops. And the people who don’t work. Yes, it might shock you to realise, but these people are part of our community, too, and they need somewhere to live.
It’s a bit tragic when even your suburban ghettos have become high end. What is going to happen to this forgotten part of the community who can’t find anywhere to live? Why is it that we are paying rental rates comparable to Sydney, the place that’s been declared as one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world? At least cities like Sydney have some perks like public transport. Public transport around here is a dude on the side of the road with his thumb out. We also have a lot of low-income single-parent families. And an unemployment rate of 9.3 per cent. That’s almost twice the unemployment rate for the whole country.
Just two hours up the road in Brisbane where there is public transport, and employment, you can rent a 3-bedroom house for $450… so how does this housing thing work? Just because I’m a waitress do I have to live in Brisbane? In the Byron Shire the modus operands is clearly ‘forget your ethics, be an opportunist and get as much as you can’.
Yeah, I know we used to be hippies. I know we do peace and love and all that jazz. But we’re talking money here. All that hippy shit goes out the window. Because hell, it sure is a great market for an opportunist. We have the ultimate capitalist playground. High levels of desirability. Low levels of availability and thus zero affordability.
There are up to 30 people turning up to an average open house, all vying for the privilege of renting some overpriced shitbox in Ocean Shores. Or Bruns. But not in Byron. You’ve got to be pulling some really serious coin for substandard accommodation there. The going price for an unrenovated 4-bedroom rental in beautiful Byron Bay is around $850. Put a dishwasher in and you’ve got yourself a grand a week.
I’ve heard this term affordable housing thrown around for the last decade, but all I’ve seen is the housing market become less and less affordable, and all the ‘affordable housing’ loopholes hijacked for profit. Like the whole granny-flat fiasco. Now that was a good idea. In theory. Here was a way of creating one-bedroom accommodation for the numerous adults in our community who require one-bedroom self-contained living.
But are there grannies in those flats? No. I’d say there’s an absolute absence of grannies or any other form of long-term tenant. Have a look on Airbnb. There’re your granny flats. Instead of creating targeted affordable housing to an unserviced demographic we’ve created higher-density living and contributed to a largely unregulated holiday-accommodation market in an area that doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle any more tourists.
So what happens to these people, these lowdown stinky service-industry down-on-their-luck single-mum dole-bludging renters? Well, eventually they move. Which might seem like economic determinism for some, but I think it just adds to the stench of elitism that permeates our Shire. Others end up paying $300 a week for the great Aussie dream of living in someone’s fucking garage. Do you have any idea of how hot it gets behind a rollerdoor in summer? Or how damp the floor gets because most garages don’t have concrete slabs at the required level for human habitation?
And the rest that don’t make it? Well they end up homeless. Here is a harsh message for heartless profiteering landlords. Every time you put your shitty rental property up for rent at an unaffordable rate, you contribute to homelessness. I hope your Moet tastes good. Because if it were me I’d need to drink a shitload of the stuff to deal with that. (And a thank you to those who continue to provide housing at a reasonable level. They are out there – there’s just not enough of them.)