Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: Affordable housing and other urban myths


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.)

28 responses to “Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: Affordable housing and other urban myths”

  1. Nancy Jo says:

    Mandy, you have hit the nail on the head so hard it hurts! I know what it is like to look and look and look for affordable accom. I had to leave a reasonable place that is now an Air BnB that gets more than my rent per week in one weekend!
    Had to move to the Tweed Shire where people aren’t so greedy. But what I want to know is who are these people that can pay those high prices? Where are they working where the salary is enough to pay $500 plus per week just for rent? That’s what I want to know!
    What I do know is that there are plenty of towns and shires in the country where there are jobs and affordable housing. Sorry to say but it looks like people will have to leave “Paradise” if they TRULY want to improve their situation! Because the greedy owners will continue to thrive on the disadvantaged!

  2. John says:

    Hear, hear!

  3. Tom Tabart says:

    Mandy is spot on with the social consequences of greed and the outcome of well-meaning (I was on that council) but naive planning decisions like the subsidised granny flats..
    The ALP’s Paul Spooner is promoting a ‘housing summit’ at this week’s council meeting a well-meaning initiative which will probably get unanimous support but is certainly doomed to talk-fest outcomes.
    Social darwinism is the default paradigm of the capitalist system and Byron has far more than its fair share of conscience-free gougers.
    The federal and state governments are the only level of government with the financial ability to address the affordable/social housing crisis. Neither has been serious about this since the end of WW2.
    Councils can supply land but get out of their financial depth beyond this and unless there is a new concept on the books will defray lots of ratepayer money to little effect -like we did on my council.

  4. Gareth Miller says:

    I think its really a state government problem, with ridiculous planning restrictions and way too little land being released for housing..

  5. George says:

    Great article Mandy. And then those that have to live in vans are kicked out so that only the wealthy can live here. Then the fabric of what Byron Bay is or was, gets destroyed.

  6. ALF says:

    Well welcome to the year 2000 seems like everyone wants to try and make home in the northern river especially within Byron or min of 20 mins driving distance ., I truly don’t know what’s the fuss about its quite impractical to think anything is affordable anymore and with a another special rate rise as in this weeks echo news do you think it’s going to make the landlords keep the rent the same , no just add it to the tenates costs , simple .
    If one really needs to live in Byron shire well that’s life in Byron shire , you could try lobby your newly elected councilors who now suppose to support the underdog and everything else ” progressive ” still trying to workout exactly what is intended by that word but I’m sure we,ll find out over the coming months / years ., to approve more cost efficient housing developments , lobby the state govt and local councilors for more housing commissions style housing , rate reductions on these properties , speed up developments DA,s of new larger style housing estates , like in Ballina ., the more housing the rent will have to drop .
    Of course if all fails just move to Ballina shire its a extra 10 mins drive on top of the 20 min and hey presto everthing is nearly half price and your car,s suspension will love you for it too .

  7. Tom Bialkowski says:

    A New Model of Housing
    “It is frustrating to know that in 1 industry you can move from the record, to the CD
    player, to the iPod, but in the housing industry there has been no significant change
    since the 70’s” Kevin Doodney – Hooker Land Marketing in QLD, top sales person
    for 8 years.

    Go to This is a new way to buy, security without loans and
    banks resulting in win win for the investor and the renter owner and much more –
    perfect solution don’t you agree?

  8. Eve Sinton says:

    Go Mandy! Absolutely spot-on. Byron Shire has morphed into greed-shire.

  9. Serge Killingbeck says:

    What do you expect Mandy, you reckon Mullum has gone to the (silvertail) birds, try the mortgage on one of those ‘classic Byron beach shacks’ aka a pile of asbestos held together with a few sticks, which now retail for a million bucks, or more (at least $1200/week as long as you don’t tell the bank you’re an investor). Worry about affordable housing, how many are paying a grand a week plus for a house that has the very real capacity to leave them or their families with a fatal disease that takes several decades to manifest, long after the landlord and the agent who sold him/her the place (‘trust me, most cement sheeting produced between 1940 and 1980 contained no asbestos’) has gone.

  10. Jed Mahoney says:

    A great read which reflects my bitter disillusionment with speculative property investment entirely.
    Thank you.
    How’s Byron these days anyway?
    I last visited in 1983 and couldn’t get out fast enough, fair dinkum. Gorgeous scenery!

  11. Greg Cook says:

    Affordable housing…..or should we say drug dens, crime havens, the breeding place of domestic violence and neighbourhood intimidation and disputes, the list goes on and on,toss in the useless people who are breeding and feeding this mess and what do we have.

  12. Keith Wise says:

    Spot on Mandy. Wit like a master crafted Samurai sword. Keep up the good work.
    PS.There are some down and out dole bludging single Dads as well. Not me but…..

  13. Trevor Acfield says:

    While many European countries invested (1/3 rd of housing stock) in public owned housing that is affordable, we chose to give govt funds to first homeowners. Many of these tenants are proud of their homes and stayed all their lives.
    We stigmatised public housing tenants as bludgers and inferior people. We created ghettos of cheap housing on the outsides of towns with poor access to services. They are now referred to as social housing tenants. What does that mean? It is a reminder that society provides for the poorest of us. While public housing was meant to be for everyone who applied, the criteria for access to social housing was about providing for the poorest and most disadvantaged. Funding dried up under successive liberal govts and the criteria for access tightened.7
    Imagine if mullum had quality govt owned housing that people were proud to rent from a well respected govt dept that had adequate stock. It could have been but we chose the free market that has big winners and even bigger losers. This should have happened over a 50 year period, where housing stock continued to increase and become economically efficient and not just housing those on the lowest incomes.
    But our fed govt decided to seriously increase our defence budget by $3.2b while we joined the US in an arms race against China (jets, subs etc), that makes me feel less safe. I feel safer when i know people get access to safe, secure and affordable housing. Thanks Mandy for writing ur article. You are a deeply beautiful woman.

    • Lisa Alexander says:

      There is some public housing still, privatized as NGO,s… They do a great job, but, yeah, too few available…

  14. Margot says:

    Mandy, Thank you! This is unfortunately now a widespread reality in our Shire . It’s not easy being a renter in this environment. ‘ affordable housing’ has largely become political slogan speak and isn’t evident in reality. Does anyone have a REAL definition of what this is suppose to mean and who it refers to? Like you, I commend the owners who charge a fair and considered rent for their properties.-Maybe we can have a list of who they are? And perhaps consider giving them awards for service to the community!

  15. Gina Lakosta says:

    Always good to hear the word on the street making it to print. Thanks Mandy!

  16. Ron Barnes says:

    Well i can Build a Colonial style Hut home to live in from recycled materials timber for free can you find the land and time to denial pallets in the bush near a stream or cliff with water views hidden along the coast will need help to do this and food while working .

  17. Helen Morningstar. says:

    Hi ya Mandy,I am a landlord with two of my children we own and rent out a house.Idea being it is a way to get into the housing market for my kids.We rent our three bed house out for 250 per week.Yes it has a dishwasher.we do intend to put the rent up at the end of the lease by an extra 10 dollars a week.this is in Ballarat where there are no skyrocketing prices a reasonable standard of living for most people but there are still daughter lives in Melb and is a nurse and works very hard and long shifts.,as does her partner but they pay 450 per week for the privledge of living where the work is .They could not afford to buy a home where they work as house prices seem to go up every week.I was born in Daylesford where my parents still live but i cannot afford to sell my house and buy a house there anymore because it is a full on tourist town.I know that those who work in low paying jobs have limited money and opportunities.It is worse in the U>S.where service folk do not receive a wage at all and live on tips.People who buy rental houses in tourist areas as an investment do so simply because of a very good return on their investment dollar.So the only houses left are the ones that are not really rentable.All i can say is move to Ballarat but hook up a job first .Good luck .No one on benefits could possibly live in Bryron shire.

  18. ALF says:

    Love your funny and not so funny comments Mandy certainly got the finger on the pulse no doubt as usual , well the way the rates are climbing out of control in this very expensive country town and with roads of a 3 rd world standard it’s one of the strangest country towns in OZ . Even being a home owner with no mortgage it’s not as easy as you,d imagine to keep a basic living standard afloat , that’s why all the old folk moved out of town nearly 20 years ago ,and they owned their houses out right too , remember that ?
    So what one to do ? The OBVIOUS , it’s year 2016 and the tourist love this place more and more even with white pointers waiting in Clarkes alley , they need food the tourist that is , entertainment , grog , herbal tea , and a bed,s to crash in , oh and that other funny herbal green stuff well mullumbimby here they come too , better clean up that garage Mandy .

  19. scott says:

    Through the election, all I heard was ‘no rocks on the beach’ and ‘no west byron’. Well, the mantra worked and now we have 3 groups of Greens. I have never seen so much sand in front of the rock wall at Belongil and now everyone is crying into their muesli about lack of housing. Yes, I know the next sub tropical low will scour the sand out, but it will build back up afterwards as it always does, but the housing will not appear as quickly as the sand. I was going to go to council last week to watch the gloating love in, but I thought I might wait a while until reality sets in and they start blaming everyone else but themselves. Should make good theatre.
    If you want cheaper housing you will need more of it. Hello, it’s economics 101. But of course, if people build nice houses on that land and take pride in the area, then those houses will increase in value and the next inflow of young people will not be able to afford those ones. As long as we keep breeding and producing more people, this rule will apply. The only solution for ambitious individuals is use your brain and brawn and save up the deposit for your own peace of heaven.
    We have built this illusion of what we expect Byron to be, but reality is ‘it is a cruel world’. Very few wild animal die of old age. It is kill or be killed in the natural world. Why do you think you have a ‘right’ to live in Byron when there is a plethora of affordable housing in rural inland towns.
    Housing Commissions are the only true affordable housing for those who can’t, or choose not to, compete in this rat race. Convince the Govt to build a few less Subs and more subsidised housing. Good luck with that.
    ps. I am not a hard bastard….but I do live in the real world.

  20. Sufiyo says:

    Yes indeed. After 6 years of blissful community integration, dancing with tribe and learning to love myself in a most supportive and nourishing environment unlike any experienced in a city or other rural area, I too felt leaving the Shire to find home (and a man – but that’s a different story haha!) was the only real choice. 6 months of living out of a suitcase at friends’ with all my self-employment supplies in storage, looking everyday for an affordable, suitable home (clean – not too rustic and rat ridden), and yes within 15 minutes of Mullum, was more than enough. It’s a lifestyle to live in Mullum, and ultimately, one I had to sadly sacrifice. Who wants to drive (lucky I have a car) 30 minutes 4 times daily to maintain community involvement!?! So Adelaide now has me. But decent, quiet, independent living is not a lot more accessible here let me tell you! A bit cheaper yes, but just as in demand – and less of them despite the denser population! I see this issue as a general ‘sign of the times’ also. As people are waking up, we are also realising the all-round benefits of living out of city! Even the average 9-5er is choosing to commute from rolling hills and fresh peaceful air to town for work. The ‘hippie’ lifestyle has taken off! It just seems to be the way of the future for the evolving conscious 😊 We always were ahead of the game 😉 But yeah, as the ‘evolving’ city slickers move in, the realist land-dwellers are forced to move out. Sad and frustrating but true. What to do?!

  21. Amanda says:

    I’ve lived in the Byron shire for 12 years and had to be in a share house with 2 others for nearly all of that time until a gorgeous 2br cottage came up in Clunes for less than $300 week where I could just afford to live on my own. I’ve been trying to get into Bangalow, where my friends and social life is, as I feel a bit isolated at Clunes…. ha ha ha…. what an absolute joke. 2br shoeboxes on Ballina Rd for $450 a week, 1br unit attached to house $420 p/w, 2br small ugly brick townhouse $470. I have worked fulltime at my job in Byron for 10 years and have been pushed out of my community by greedy people.

  22. Jann says:

    Excellent article Mandy and spot on! Affordable housing in the Byron Shire is a joke, there is none! My adult children, who were born and bred in Byron Bay will never be able to afford to buy a house. They will be forced out by unrealistic and over-the-top rents from greedy landlords. $300 a week to live in someone’s garage is deplorable!

  23. Steve Millard says:

    Just about every candidate in the last Council election stood for the cliche of ‘affordable’ housing. Our capitalist economy cannot provided this, so does this mean Council will fast track a subdivision for public housing?

  24. David says:

    Great article, Mandy. Given that it seems impossible to get consensus on one small ‘affordable’ housing development in Mullum it is hard to imagine anything much changing. Byron probably needs a new town where development might not have so many whingeing neighbours.There are so many extremely clever people in Byron Shire it should be possible to create something extraordinary, but I won’t hold my breath.

  25. Koert says:

    Change a few names and numbers, and get rid of the ridiculous Australian slang : ) and this story could have been written about our small beach community in Ventura, California. (Where our slang makes sense.)

    Or, even more so about the hippie-turning-hipster Ojai Valley, where mother-earth matriarchs charge laid back soul searchers $1,000 US a night to experience how relaxing life is in a small spiritual community.

    Fair dinkum (I have no idea whether that gets a question mark or an asterisk after it, but it seems to get the Australian bartender’s attention.)

  26. Gaia says:

    The so called “greed” of people is natural and is NOT the problem here.

    We all KNOW, if you think about it, what is the REAL problem with Byron.
    Back in the day the locals fought against club-mad, remember? Well, the illegal usage of family homes as Motels is the only problem we have here. More accurately, the fact that this illegal use is being ignored and not treated by the council.

    There are around 1000 properties in Byron which until around the year 2000 used to be family home for our local community to live in, and are now illegal money-making businesses.

    If the council would finally get up and start prosecuting (and there are many ways to do so – if they really wanted to) – with 50-50 success rate that would bring 500 houses BACK into the rental market. With 500 houses back on the market the rents will come back to their normal and healthy state – simple as.

    No amount of extra development would help as long as “holiday let” practice is not been dealt with, as more and more houses will simply be turned into motels. It simple, really, even if you pay for a family home 3 times its real worth – its still cheaper than investing in a real and legal motel (with all the regulations and planning and certifications that are involved) – and so will always be – until council do something – a profitable way to make money – while destroying the community fabric to everyone else in this Shire.

  27. Michele Grant says:

    I’m sure the latest Census will again indicate the total number of holiday houses/investment properties will outstrip the number of permanent rental, owner/occupied properties in virtually every desirable coastal community.

    The socio-economic purging of our communities is tolerated because we use money not guns to drive local residents out – increasingly older residents as well as the young. Housing is a basic need – a human right – it’s not something we earn through our labour – we need housing before we can labour. Despite the deafening demand the market had failed to provide safe, secure affordable options for a growing cohort of citizens.

    Leaving no option but homelessly, camping or couch surfing. Or we can provide/build our own shelters. there is plenty of crown land/public land that can be used – including the discarded railway lands.

    I encourage anyone looking for affordable accomodation to consider the large swathe of land running from casino to murwillumbah that could be used for innovation housing options.

    Save yourselves – get organised, and find new solutions – neither govt, nor the market is interested in helping low income citizens. Time for new-age squatting rights – not all housing needs to cost $1million, or last 100 years!

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