Paul Bibby & Hans Lovejoy
It was trumpeted by the developer as ‘a major step forward in relieving the acute shortage of affordable housing in the northern rivers’.
But as the ‘Kollective’ unit development at 116 Stuart Street, Mullumbimby, hits the market this week, some locals are wondering whether it is making the affordable housing situation better or worse.
It throws into question councillors’ eagerness to approve anything presented as ‘affordable’ and the effectiveness of such policies.
Eight units, each consisting of one or two loft bedrooms and a downstairs work space, have been advertised on local Facebook pages for $550 to $600 a week.
This is higher than both the median rent for a three-bedroom free-standing house in Mullumbimby (around $550) and a unit ($350).
The manager of the development, Duncan Band, declined an interview request from The Echo.
He provided brief half-responses to our questions in writing, but was unwilling to confirm the prices listed in his company’s online advertising.
‘Market rent is still being determined by open house inspections,’ he said.
When asked whether the advertised rents were above average for the area, Mr Band referred The Echo to a general pre-written blurb, which included the claim that ‘by increasing housing diversity in the Shire, The Kollective aims to provide housing at a variety of price points’.
Prior to receiving development approval for The Kollective, Mr Band’s company, The Kollective, promised that two of the eight units would be rented at below market rates.
When asked whether the company would keep this promise, Mr Band’s written response was ‘yes, the Kollective in [sic] currently in discussions with two housing organisations’.
No further information as to the identity of these providers, or when the two ‘affordable’ units would be available to rent, was provided.
When The Echo went to the site for a pre-arranged inspection on Monday, we found an employee padlocking the gate.
No inspection was provided.
DA supported by Greens, Labor
At Council’s November 17, 2016 meeting, mayor Simon Richardson used his casting vote – with an absent Cr Cameron – to approve the development after a long-running dispute with the developer Koho.
The plans were also championed by Cr Paul Spooner.
A Land and Environment commissioner visited the Stuart Street site on January 24, 2017 to hear residents’ concerns.
Under affordable-housing provisions within the State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPP), a 30 per cent affordable-housing component is required.
Many objections were raised from neighbouring residents at the time. They claimed it was out of character for height and bulk; the site is zoned R2 low density.
Cr Basil Cameron, who voted against, told The Echo in August 2016 that this would likely create a precedent ‘that will weaken the heritage provisions of the Byron LEP and DCP.’
He said, ‘In large part this is because of the NSW State Planning Policy (SEPP) that overrides local planning law.
‘Any time a SEPP is used, it tends to override or weaken local provisions. In this case, the precedent will have greater effect as the development is the first test of the heritage provisions in this part of town.’
While the development was led at the time by Koho’s Adam Bennett-Smith, he told The Echo recently that ‘neither I, nor Koho, have any affiliation’ with The Kollective and their developments, including the Stuart Street property.