Byron’s status as the only shire exempt from NSW holiday letting regulations could be under threat as a declared housing crisis on the Northern Rivers continues.
In recent years, former Byron Shire residents have moved to other parts of the region after being evicted from rental properties when owners decide to sell, significantly increase rent or convert their properties into holiday accommodation.
The neighbouring Ballina Shire was recently described with pride as a family friendly place by outgoing mayor of eleven years, David Wright.
But independent councillor and mayoral candidate Jeff Johnson has written to The Echothis week saying many families can no longer afford or even find long-term rental accommodation in Ballina.
Ballina’s family friendly status at risk as tourism takes over
‘In the last twelve months alone, rents have gone up by 25% across the Ballina Shire,’ Cr Johnson wrote.
‘With vacancy rates sitting at 0.2% there is little hope for long term renters that these prices will go down unless there is government intervention,’ the mayoral candidate wrote.
Like Byron Shire councillors and housing advocates before him, Cr Johnson is calling for state short-term holiday regulation changes that, in his words, ‘reverse the increasing trend of property owners to offer their properties for short term rental accommodation instead of permanent long-term arrangements’.
Holiday house numbers increase by more than 200% in three years
‘The number of properties listed on short term rental websites such as AirBnB have risen significantly over the last few years,’ Cr Johnson wrote.
‘In 2016 it was only 193, but by 2019 it was 634,’ he wrote, ‘that’s an increase of well over 200%’.
Cr Johnson said that figure didn’t include properties listed with local real estate agencies or other online platforms.
‘This has also contributed to the massive increase in property values,’ Cr Johnson wrote, ‘as investors can generate a greater return managing properties that used to be available as housing and instead turning them into holiday accommodation’.
‘Byron has been battling this issue for a number of years and it has now spread down to Lennox and other areas of our Shire.’
Holiday haven leaves no room for service workers
In yet another echo of Byron’s unabated housing crisis, Cr Johnson said Ballina’s real estate market had reached a point where many businesses couldn’t fill staff vacancies owing to a lack of affordable housing for potential employees.
Like many elected local government representatives on the Northern Rivers, as well as the likes of Greens Member for Ballina Tamara Smith and Country Labor Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin, the former Greens-turned-independent councillor and 2021 mayoral candidate is calling for more government funded housing.
‘Not just the traditional social housing,’ Cr Johnson wrote, ‘but affordable housing that isn’t sold off, but added to the long term rental accommodation pool so that our essential workers, such as hospitality, aged care and emergency services just to name a few, are able to live in the community where they work’.
The councillor repeated earlier calls for stronger restrictions on short-term holiday letting, saying Ballina’s inclusion in state rules allowing homes to be rented on a short-term basis for up to 180 days per year was no longer helpful.
The Byron Shire was still waiting to find out whether or not the government would allow it to restrict holiday lets to 90 days per year but wasn’t due to find out until early 2022.
Until then, there were effectively no rules governing holiday let caps in Byron, leaving much of the housing crisis in the hands of property investors for at least another summer.
‘Policy settings that put greater restrictions on short term holiday letting could add hundreds of homes to the long-term rental pool and put downward pressure on rents,’ Cr Johnson wrote.
‘If we are to continue to have a diverse and creative community where our children can hope to build a life then things need to change.’
A recent state planning department regional housing taskforce was also recommending changes to the controversial STRA regulations.
Last chance for Ballina council to confront STRA rules in 2021
Thursday’s Ballina Shire Council ordinary meeting is to be the last before local government elections in December.
Cr Jonson’s latest motion on housing calls for the council to ‘acknowledge the critical shortage of rental accommodation in the Ballina Shire and the impact that short term holiday accommodation sites such as AirBnB are having’.
A second part of the same motion calls on the council to ‘investigate what restrictions it can place on short term accommodation for homes in residential areas in order to increase the supply of long term rental properties’.
Fellow Ballina Shire mayoral candidate and recent representative for Labor, Keith Williams, confirmed to The Echo that he supported a re-examinatioin of state STRA regulations but stopped short of saying whether or not that support included restrictions on annual caps.