I read Misha Sims’ letter today and was saddened by her naïveté.
Having been born in New York City in the early 1950s, I saw ‘my’ neighbourhood go from affordably middle class in the 50s and 60s to dangerous and gritty in the 70s, marginally more upscale in the 80s, and decidedly ‘gentrified’ in the 90s and 2000s. If you didn’t have a vintage 1950s Rent Control Lease or a 60s Rent Stabilisation Lease the living spaces were spiralling out of reach; and the decidedly upper-middle class and plutocracy moved right in.
What Ms Sims either fails to recognise or is in denial about is ‘Intro to Economics 101’: The Free Market: What prices will the market bear before unusual profits cause resources to flow in for additional building until demand is satisfied and market equilibrium returns?
Sadly, most of us cannot afford ‘half-decent’ housing exactly where we want to live. Ms Sims bemoans nonexistent dwellings at prices she is willing or able to pay. The reality is most property developers in the Northern Rivers have found no incentive to build this style of housing, and the now up-scale neighbourhoods have not indicated a taste for it.
Ms Sims also avoids the reality that affordability and proximity to schools is not a god-given, state-granted, or inalienable right. She has a better chance finding this in a communist or socialist state.
With approximately 90 per cent of the Australian population living near, or eventually moving towards the coast, this situation will not soon change. However, change is possible, and it will take smarter land developers building the kind of housing needed for an ever-changing population.
For example, I am near 60, child free, and separated. Yet I still maintain a large house and property. I would jump at the opportunity to purchase a smaller, well-designed and -crafted, two-bedroom residence with the amenities I wanted. But there are none such available or being built. To build from scratch would cost about 35–50 per cent more than buying one house in a tasteful development of several purpose-built ‘baby boomer’ dwellings.
The same goes for the type of housing pursued by Ms Sims. With this area having the largest per capita percentage of single mums, at around 48 per cent, some smart developer, with a bit of zoning assistance from a shire council, would do quite well catering to this market. However, it is doubtful this will happen in Byron Shire, as Council is already overwhelmed with several confrontational housing issues. The illegal holiday renters don’t get along with town residents; Belongil owners want compensation for building houses in eroded ‘no-go zones’, Wanganui and Huonbrook are a haven for tarpaper and plastic-sheet houses, and there are more illegal tenants in the industrial estate than there are legitimate businesses.
So, in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, ‘I’m telling you my dear, it can’t happen here…’
M O Greene, Mullumbimby