Should the Council-owned plot of land in Mullumbimby, known as Lot 22, be used for temporary accommodation for those at risk of homelessness, as a matter of urgency?
This is the latest proposal for the site – located next to Mullum’s community garden – which will be debated at this week’s Byron Council meeting.
Interim Mayor, Michael Lyon, (Independent) is proposing that Council submit a development application (DA) for a ‘Transitional Supported Accommodation’ development on part of the site.
This would involve housing to help bridge the gap for those in insecure housing or at risk of homelessness, until they can find a more permanent home.
Individuals and families would stay for no longer than two years in the accommodation, and would benefit from the site’s close proximity to existing housing and social support services in the centre of Mullumbimby.
‘We are not talking about social housing… we need to leave that to State and Federal Governments,’ Cr Lyon said.
‘Nor are we talking about those people whose circumstances allow for wrap-around services and interventions to occur, such as those in acute domestic violence situations.
‘We are talking about a model which is underpinned by people who have the finance to pay for accommodation in a ‘normal’ market, including pensioners, key workers on minimum wage, single parents etc.’
The motion is the latest attempt by Cr Lyon and others to address what they have termed the Shire’s ‘housing emergency’.
Recent proposals to use caravan parks for crisis accommodation and to turn Council-owned land into safe spaces for those sleeping in their cars or vans, hit the skids when staff pointed out that there was no Council land where this was considered a ‘permissible use’.
Cr Lyon believes that transitional supported accommodation is a permitted use on Lot 22, even though the site is currently zoned for public recreation – RE1.
This view is backed up by Council’s Director of Sustainable Environment and Economy, Shannon Burt.
In written comments accompanying the report, Ms Burt said that, as well as the RE1 zoning, the site had a Plan of Management that provided for affordable housing on part of the land.
‘As such, and as per the recommendation, a development application can be prepared and submitted for Transitional Supported Accommodation, made under existing definitions in the Local Environmental Plan 2014, on Lot 22.’
However, this is unlikely to convince the vocal group of Mullum locals who oppose any housing development on Lot 22.
They point out that the site has significant flooding issues – as evidenced by the March 2017 floods – and claim that this renders it unsafe and unsuitable for housing.
It is also argued that the site is a precious piece of open space that effectively forms a ‘commons’ for the town of Mullumbimby.
In his notice of motion, Cr Lyon argues that the extent of the crisis requires urgent action. He writes, ‘The time for talk and imposing barriers is over, we need to see a change of approach, which is about enabling solutions and actions implemented on the ground,’ Cr Lyon said.
‘What needs to be clearly understood here is not just the extent of the emergency we are currently in, but that we are not even close to the peak of this crisis’.
According to a 2020 staff report on Lot 22, the site adjoins wetlands and contain areas that are ‘deemed developable when considering the impact to the regional flood levels and the development controls with regards to flooding on new land release areas’.
They write on page 5, ‘A cut to fill balance may be achievable; however, its viability is dependent on the soil quality onsite, which is currently unknown’, and, ‘Some channel works may be required to achieve the development footprint proposed – these have not been considered in the costing…’