Three group homes for single mothers facing homelessness would be built on the former Eco Village site in Saddle Road, Brunswick Heads under a plan proposed by local developer, Brandon Saul.
The proposed not-for-profit development would be the pilot project for a much larger plan to address Byron’s housing and homelessness crisis through the creation of a community land trust.
Mr Saul bought the former Eco Village site on Saddle Road last July for $10 million. He is now planning to donate part of the 52-hectare site to the housing trust to build permanent group homes for single mothers and their children.
Several rooms would also be made available for older women.
‘There’s a growing number of single mums who have been forced out of the rental market,’ said Mr Saul. ‘This particular impact is something I haven’t seen before in the Shire – hundreds of women and children living in cars, quietly moving from carpark to carpark.
‘In many cases they’ve got jobs, kids in school – their lives are here, and they’re a part of our community.’
Mr Saul says if approved, each home would have ten bedrooms, including three small, clustered cabins to allow for flexible living arrangements. Each cluster would also have shared kitchen, laundry and lounge areas.
‘This is not the type of temporary group home where people go after being in an institution – we’re not concentrating people with problems in one area with no services,’ Mr Saul said. ‘It’s dignified, permanent, low-cost housing for ordinary people with jobs.’
With Mr Saul having donated the land for the project, the focus has now moved to the financing and planning process. One local, who wishes to remain anonymous, has already donated some funds, and the Northern Rivers Community Foundation has agreed to help raise the remainder. Once the plans and financing are organised, Mr Saul says a Development Application would be submitted to Byron Council for assessment.
Mr Saul and others involved in the pilot project hope that it will provide a scalable model that can be replicated across the Shire with different types of housing for different groups such as young people and older women.
It’s not the first attempt at setting up a land trust to address the housing crisis in the Shire.
The model is also being explored by Council after being proposed by former councillor Paul Spooner.
The model has had considerable success overseas, particularly in northern Europe, and in the US where Bernie Sanders set up a highly successful scheme in Vermont.
‘We’ve done our homework, it looks like it’s possible, and we’ve already got some money in the bank.
‘With a bit of luck, I’m hoping that in the first quarter of this year we’ll get it off the ground.’
Mr Saul’s company Creative Capital owns or is involved with several existing and proposed developments in the Byron Shire, including Habitat in the Byron industrial estate, and the Linneaus project in Broken Head, which has been the focus of vocal opposition from a group of local residents.
He has also been involved in bringing the Fletcher Street Cottage homelessness drop-in centre back to life.
The former Bruns Eco Village site has been the subject of multiple plans for development in recent years, all of which have drawn opposition from various quarters.
Controversial plans for an eco-friendly intentional community were abandoned, and in 2020, Council earmarked the land for possible business and industrial uses – listing it in its Business and Industrial Land Strategy (BILS). There was also considerable opposition to this move.