Are all private housing developments greed-driven enterprises that should be stopped from destroying our peaceful towns and villages?
Or does the housing crisis demand a more nuanced approach that provides housing for low-to-middle income earners as well as those on social welfare?
That question was at the heart of the debate at Byron Council last week, as our elected representatives continued their so-far-fruitless search for solutions to the dire shortage of available accommodation.
With a new report from Council staff showing that many of our key workers have now been completely priced out of the market, Labor councillor Paul Spooner said the Shire’s housing crisis was driven by a broader ‘class crisis’.
‘Have we cultivated the perfect enclave for the rich and famous? The answer is “Yes”,’ Cr Spooner told last week’s council planning meeting.
‘Blue collar and pink collar workers are being pushed out, and no collar workers are moving in… the instafamous and the A-listers.
‘And there is a direct correlation between blocking housing development and the housing crisis’.
A key element in the debate over housing is how to provide accommodation for the Shire’s key workers, most of whom are on low-to-middle incomes, as well as those on social welfare.
At the same time, there is a need to protect the environment and the amenity of existing residents.
Defining affordable housing
Over the past five to ten years, the Shire has been the focus of multiple development applications seeking to make use of the state’s so-called affordable housing policy, which aims to provide for those in the low-to-middle income bracket.
Under this planning policy, developers receive various lucrative concessions for housing projects that seem to do little more than pay lip service to the concept of affordability.
The developments are also inevitably the subject of passionate campaigns by neighbours seeking to protect their towns and villages.
One such proposal is the Corso development in the Bayside precinct of Brunswick Heads, which a vocal group of locals has branded a greedy overdevelopment that will neither address the housing crisis nor enhance their town.
But Mayor Simon Richardson said a more nuanced approach to such developments was needed.
‘It’s so easy to say that these developers are “greedy” and “the community doesn’t want it” and “that’s not affordable,”’ Cr Richardson said.
‘But we need to acknowledge that there’s nuance when it comes to affordability.’
‘Yes, if we look at the person who’s homeless and living in their car on social security and needs social housing, that is not going to be affordable.
‘But for a working couple it lets them stay in the community… They would kill for the chance to pay $500 for a one-bedder.
‘We’ve got to stop denying them that because a developer wants to make money and the people on the street don’t want it.
‘Who cares how much profit the developer makes? We need to stop demonising them – calling them devils and demons. We need to grow up.
Mayor accuses NIMBYs of greed
‘Could it be argued that someone who lives on a quiet street and says “I don’t want this new development on my street” is engaging in a form of greed?’
But Cr Cate Coorey defended those locals who opposed new developments such as the Corso.
‘I don’t think people necessarily see “developer” as a bad word’, Cr Coorey said.
‘They recognise that people profit all the time, and that it’s the nature of business.
‘But the question is, from what are they profiting?
‘The reality is that they are profiting from the suffering of others.
‘Some developers when they don’t get the immediate response [from Council] that they want, simply take us to the Land and Environment Court.
‘When people act in that way, you have to question whether they have good intentions.’
She also pointed out that the ever-growing number of local houses being used for Airbnb was a major contributing factor.
‘We have whole streets with no lights on at night because nobody is there.
‘Unfortunately, it seems that some of the mechanisms that we had to create this beautiful place have worked against us and created something that we didn’t want.’
Following an extensive debate, councillors voted unanimously in favour of a motion penned and recommended by Council staff entitled Byron Shire Key Workers Issues Paper.
Measures contained within the motion included inviting the NSW housing and planning ministers to come to Byron to discuss the issues of key worker housing stress and potential state government funding for local housing initiatives.
It also included exploring potential collaboration between different Northern Rivers councils with an eye to researching the key worker housing crisis, and coming up with ‘innovative solutions’ to address it.
Further, the motion contained a proposal to ask the State and Federal Governments to change planning policy to give councils more power to encourage appropriate development.
This included councils ‘directly facilitating development through planning, providing land, and financial levers such as subsidies and private public partnerships’.