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August 3, 2021

Housing affordability on agenda at Ballina

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With the housing crisis worsening in Ballina and across the Northern Rivers, councillors agreed that something had to be done about the problem at their meeting yesterday.

Cr Ben Smith’s motion called for the creation of a consultative group, consisting of key housing stakeholders, to inform Ballina Council’s Housing Affordability Strategy and to provide on-going input and feedback.

Cr Smith said there was a clear housing affordability issue, which wasn’t as simple as supply and demand, in spite of what the NSW government might have said on the subject. ‘We have lots of land but still have lots of issues,’ he said.

‘Maybe it’s easy for ministers to say that when they’re getting backpocket donations from developers.’

He noted that lots of people who grew up in Ballina can no longer afford to live in the area. Single women and divorced people faced particular challenges. Cr Smith said that even people with good incomes were being knocked back, with others offering even more to get in.

He said the situation was causing knock-on effects too, for example with traffic, with people having to live further and further out, and commute.

What to do?

Cr Smith noted that property needed to be about housing and not just making money.

CR Ben Smith. Photo supplied.

‘I don’t know the exact way to solve it,’ he said.

While lots of things needed to happen at federal and state level, he said there were also things that could be done at a local level.

Cr Smith said that if organisations like Northern Rivers Housing and other solution-focused people could be brought together, then resources could be pooled locally and regionally to make ‘some kind of dent in the problem’ before the situation got completely out of control in the shire.

Cr Phillip Meehan asked council staff where the housing affordability strategy was up to? Manager of Strategic Planning Matt Wood said it was early days for the new strategy, with the consultation process currently being mapped out. He said the timing of the motion was perfect to aid momentum.

Cr Eoin Johnston recounted a recent conversation with two older ladies in Wollongbar who were very sensitive to the needs and wants of those who were homeless.

The ladies had reminded him that while there are some people sleeping in backyard tents, there were others with spare rooms and space who would like to help if the DA process was not so onerous and expensive.

Cr Johnston said there good-minded people in the community who felt guilty for living alone in large houses when there were others who had nowhere to sleep, while noting that many of these older people were themselves quite vulnerable; the process of creating share situations would need to be handled carefully.

He suggested that police and social workers could also be involved with the housing affordability strategy.

Issue bigger than council

Cr Keith Williams thanked Ben Smith for his motion, saying it was a great approach, with the issue so much bigger than council.

Cr Keith Williams. Photo David Lowe.

‘We have to develop some kind of response,’ he said, ‘or we risk becoming more like Byron, where you become a rich enclave and the people who work in the shire can’t afford to live in the shire.

‘This is timely and a great initiative,’ he said.

Cr Sharon Cadwallader said anything that could be done to address the homelessness problem would be a good thing, noting that previous local attempts to emulate higher density eco-housing success stories near public transport, like Varsity Lakes, had come to nothing.

‘If we can get everyone around the table and work out how council could assist in some way, that’s a good thing,’ she said.

‘We’ll never address the problem fully, we know that, but anything we can do we should do. It’s a pleasure to support this,’ said Cr Cadwallader.

Cr Smith thanked council for its support. The motion was carried unanimously.

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  1. Getting the railway up and operational would assist in reopening those parts and valleys to allow more reasonable access to cheaper accommodation, transport and employment. It has been noticed historically world wide that rail assist employment and development. It should be an initiative of all council to have this reinstated.


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