We continually hear in the media that NSW, especially Sydney and some key coastal locations like my home town Byron Bay are in a housing boom.
Whenever a celebrity purchases a piece of land or there is a boost in overseas investment, we’re told that this is a bonus for us all; a sign that NSW is number 1.
However, measuring progress in such a way ignores the tragic social consequences of unaffordable housing and gentrification, not least the loss of diverse communities.
No longer is gentrification an inner-Sydney phenomenon. Communities in newly prescribed regional ‘hotspot’ locations are feeling the effects, most noticeably in the rising price of housing and lack of affordable and available rental properties.
It’s having an impact on house prices: latest data shows that housing stress is rife, with 71,000 low-income renter households in regional NSW paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.
Older people, young families, people with a disability and Aboriginal people are finding that their communities are no longer affordable, and are getting pushed farther and farther out to the margins.
People’s right to shelter is enshrined in International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
But what of the right to a diverse community? Gentrification outprices essential workers like nurses, teachers, firies, and public servants from locations close to employment and causes homogenisation of place.
We’re seeing the impact on housing affordability. Regional areas are experiencing a housing price boom.
For example, house prices in Kiama increased by 12.5 per cent in the 12 months to September 2015 and only 3.1 per cent of rental homes there are considered affordable for someone on a very-low income. In Newcastle, that figure is 14.5 per cent.
But it’s not only coastal locations feeling the effects of unaffordable housing. Homelessness, often considered a city issue, increased in Armidale, Griffith and the Upper Hunter between 2006 and 2011.
Our cities, suburbs and towns need more housing and our communities need to accommodate more people. But we need to do this right – not by undermining the wellbeing and character of the existing community, and not by driving people out through unaffordability and gentrification.
Housing is more than infrastructure and jobs; it’s about communities and the people in them.
Communities thrive with a diverse mix of people. The resilience of society relies on those who volunteer and contribute.
To allow gentrification to take over and define our towns and cities risks losing that diversity and engagement within communities. Such a shift is a grave mistake that cannot be undone.
NSW is in a housing crisis across the state. This government has a once in a lifetime opportunity to greatly increase social and affordable housing in communities across NSW. But does it have the courage?
Jan Barham, MLC