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Byron Shire
June 15, 2021

The housing crisis in regional Australia

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James May

As someone who rents a home, I’m frustrated with the lack of action on affordable housing. The debate has raged for years, yet the government buries its head in the sand.

Renters are often lost in the conversation, and ignored by commentators in the government. Many other countries have rent controls or regulate their house prices, but not our country. Meanwhile, the cost of rental properties continues to soar with few vacancies and large numbers of people competing for somewhere to live.

The majority of people I know live in insecure rental properties, and we face the reality of having to relocate again and again. Not to mention being at the mercy of landlords who provide no official documents, refuse to make repairs and can hike the rent up at any time, because there’s a growing population of people desperate for a place to live.

The idea of owning a home is for us so far-fetched, it’s laughable. Yet the government seems blind to our existence. I’ve lived in crowded share houses, motels, rooms with no kitchens above shops and laundries, and rambling boarding houses. I’ve moved countless times and I expect it will continue.

After leaving the city a few years ago, I moved to northern NSW in search of affordable housing. Unfortunately it’s not much better, particularly since COVID-19 and the influx of people to regional areas.

Here in northern NSW, the rental market is tighter than ever with limited vacancies and droves of people turning up to property inspections. It’s hard for someone with a pay cheque to find a home – those on Centrelink don’t stand a chance.

Property squeeze

The majority of advertisements on accommodation websites are now placed by people seeking a home, not offering one. Prospective tenants include singles, couples and families with children. Many landlords have taken the opportunity to jack prices up or advertise their properties in the lucrative Airbnb market. This has reduced availability even more.

On a personal level, the repercussions are huge. I have a 76-year-old mother undergoing cancer treatment who is forced to live in a decrepit caravan park. The place is hardly safe or comfortable for a man, let alone a woman her age. Another friend, a woman 60 years old has moved seven times in the past year, couch-surfing and sleeping in a ramshackle bus during winter.

An elderly lady pushes a supermarket trolley up our street collecting bottles and cans to survive. So much for this year’s budget being touted ‘a budget for women.’ They’re the fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia and it’s done nothing to help them.

The property squeeze is plain to see on a stroll through any of our local towns. The homeless languish on cardboard mats by the cinema, and share a filthy mattress outside shops in Lismore. Soup kitchens in Mullumbimby are full, while parks and beaches in Byron Bay are the only refuge for homeless people with tourists taking up vast swathes of accommodation. This is regional Australia where the Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack told us to go for a ‘beaut lifestyle’ and ‘affordable homes’. Sorry guys, there is nothing affordable about property in northern NSW.

This year’s federal budget did nothing to address the crisis, and is cold comfort for the thousands trapped in precarious, insecure housing. Prior to the budget, leaders in the community sector spoke of their inability to even contact Michael Sukkar, the federal housing minister. Perhaps he had nothing to say. While tax incentives continue for home owners and investors, no support was offered for renters or the homeless.

Do these politicians in the coalition government live on another planet? They seem oblivious to the growing divide between wealthy and poor in this country. The lack of affordable housing is a symptom of this. When will they open their eyes and face what’s happening in our towns and cities? When our streets resemble those of the USA? Or maybe when someone they actually care about is homeless? With no money or resources allocated for social and affordable housing in this year’s budget, it won’t be far away. 

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  1. I live around Murwillumbah and I am gobsmacked at the price of houses on the market for sale. It has gone out of control with greed. Rents have jumped incredibly well beyond anything that could be called justifiable. The frenzied greed is ugly and needs to be stopped. The social ramifications will cost us all on many levels. I know people say that that’s the market price but that doesn’t justify greed.

  2. The idea that people out there especially mothers with children or elder women find themselves stuck with no safe place to call home is saddening and quite distressful. At the very least we need to open up empty spaces and turn them into safe accomodations for homeless.
    30 years ago in Germany I was penniless without anywhere to stay and I’ve been directed to a place which provided a sandwich, tea and clean bed with a clean towel. I lined up with the rest of the homeless people and slept safely.
    In Murwillumbah there’s the old bowling club which was bought by Woolworth. The last thing our town need is another supermarket… If only the building was be turned into a safe space for homeless people, with couple of dormitories (Men and Women’s), with a dinning area, showers and beds with clean linen, our homeless sisters and brothers could at least lay their heads down in a warm place on a clean bed with food in their stomach. These places could even have wardrobes with clean clothes they can pick something from. It can be done. It just needs councils and governments pulling their fingers out.


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