An anonymous leaflet has been placed in local letterboxes alleging that the proposal to build group homes for single mums and their kids in Saddle Road, Brunswick Heads is a ‘plan for a drug and alcohol rehab’.
But the claims have been dismissed by the organisers of the project, and an examination shows that they are based on a selective and inaccurate representation of the housing laws.
The distribution of the leaflet comes as several of the region’s largest not-for-profit and philanthropic organisations throw their support behind the proposal, which would see three group homes, each with 10 bedrooms, built on the old Bruns Eco Village site at Saddle Road.
Those now supporting or directly involved with the project and the associated Byron Community Housing Trust include the Byron Community Centre, Social Futures, the Northern Rivers Community Foundation, and the Momentum Collective.
Local developer Brandon Saul is also a key player in the project having donated the land and proposed the broader community housing trust model.
The leaflet, which provides no clues as to the author’s identity, claims that the group homes project is ‘actually a plan to develop a drug and alcohol rehab not a plan to tackle Byron’s Housing crisis’.
The author states, apparently with no supporting evidence, that ‘Brandon Saul and his developer partners have an interest in drug and alcohol due to the money that can be made from such a venture’.
The leaflet goes on to state that, under the relevant planning laws group ‘can be used as a rehabilitation facility’.
As evidence of this the author quotes selectively from the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 9 – Group Homes (1983). This is an outdated version of the laws applying to group homes, with limited relevance to the current development.
Referring to the section of the legislation covering ‘transitional group homes’, the author points out that, among the different categories of people who a group home provides for are those who are ‘disadvantaged for reasons of alcohol or other drug dependence’.
On this basis the author claims that ‘this development is suitable for a drug and alcohol rehab’.
This is a misrepresentation of the planning laws in relation to group homes, which do not state that they can be used as a ‘drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility’.
Further, the author has omitted the fact that there is a second type of group home in the legislation, namely, a ‘permanent group home’.
While people who are disadvantaged for reasons of alcohol or other drug dependence can also live in these permanent homes, they are even further from a drug rehabilitation facility than a transitional home.
Instead, these homes provide ‘a household environment for disabled persons or socially disadvantaged persons…’
Ms Saul has previously stated that the group homes development at Saddle Road will be a permanent group home, rather than a transitional one.
He has also stated that, rather than being social housing, the project is to be long-term, not-for-profit affordable housing for working single mums who have been priced out of the rental market.
Northern Rivers Community Foundation Responds
In response to the flyer, the CEO of the Northern Rivers Community Foundation, Emily Berry, said that her organisation and the others involved understood that a new development could raise concerns for some people.
‘We at the Northern Rivers Community Foundation are always open to hearing those concerns,’ Ms Berry said.
‘However, this new housing project with the Byron Shire Community Land Trust is not a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, as some members of the community are being led to believe.’
‘This housing project is focused on a co-housing model, which will provide safe and stable homes for vulnerable women and children in our region.’
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.
Community Land Trust Model
This would be done by creating a Byron Shire community land trust.
Under a land trust model, both the land and building component of the property are owned by a not-for-profit entity which holds onto them in perpetuity.
The buildings are then leased to families or individuals.
In a written statement this week, the organisations involved in the project said the Community Land Trust would be governed by a Board of Directors.
It said that Louise O’Connell, General Manager of Byron Community Centre, John Callanan, ex-Chair and now Patron of Northern Rivers Community Foundation, Tony Davies, CEO of Social Futures, and Brandon Saul, Managing Director of Creative Capital were four out of a possible seven directors that would head up the first Board of the Community Land Trust.
‘The permanent housing crisis in our community is now at an emergency stage and needs direct solutions,’ Ms O’Connell said.
‘Here at the Byron Community Centre we do our best to support vulnerable community members, including an increasing number of women and children, but there is very little affordable housing available.
‘Housing provided by the Community Land Trust will allow vulnerable members of our community to transition to a more permanent home.’