Australia’s first community land trust has been launched in the Byron Shire, and has applied to build its first project: a group home for single mothers and kids facing homelessness.
Following in the footsteps of land trusts set up in the US and Northern Europe, the Byron Shire Community Land Trust attempts to address the Shire’s housing and homelessness crisis by providing low-cost rental accommodation to those who need it.
It is a not-for-profit entity run by a board, that purchases land and builds housing that is then managed by a community housing provider.
The trust has just submitted a Development Application (DA) for its first housing project, a group home for single mothers, their kids, and older women to be built on the former Eco Village site at 66 Saddle Road, Brunswick Heads.
The home would have five bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, and a separate building containing a shared kitchen, dining area and lounge room.
It is intended that it will house at least two small single-parent families and two older women, providing them with medium term, transitional housing for a period of anywhere between three and 18 months.
The development includes a driveway from Bashforths Lane, parking for six vehicles, drinking water storage, on-site wastewater treatment facilities and waste storage and composting facilities. Site landscaping includes an Asset Protection Zone (APZ) and the restoration of a gully to the east of the proposed buildings; and rainforest revegetation to the north along a north-flowing gully.
The land for the project has been donated by local developer Brandon Saul, who has played a central role in setting up the land trust.
The group home itself will be built using funds donated by four wealthy local philanthropists with the assistance of the Northern Rivers Community Foundation (NRCF) and Mr Saul’s company, Creative Capital.
Managed by social services provider
The home will be managed on a day-to-day basis by The Momentum Collective, a local social services organisation.
The design and layout of the home has been undertaken by a local planner and a local architect, both of whom donated their services.
‘This is rental accommodation that will never be sold, or used for anything other than rental accommodation,’ Mr Saul said.
‘It’s written into the terms of the trust that the land can never be sold, can never be used for Airbnb, and can only be used for rental accommodation.’
The Momentum Collective will run an application process to decide who moves into the housing and help the residents access social support such as counselling, where needed.
Foundation for expansion
It is intended that the group home project will provide a solid foundation for the expansion of the land trust, providing a template to be replicated in other areas of the Shire, and a financial anchor.
This will begin with the creation of two additional group homes of the same size and scale on the Saddle Road site.
‘Once the home is up and running, we can then use that as security to borrow more money to buy more land and build more low-cost rental accommodation,’ Mr Saul said.
‘We’re also hoping that other landowners will see the success of the project and donate, say, a corner of their property for another group home.’
‘The idea is that we will expand to a point where we’re making a significant difference to the housing situation in the Shire.
‘Obviously this isn’t going to solve the entire problem – we need housing solutions at different levels, including government-funded public housing, but we believe this can make a significant difference’.
Group Home SEPP
A key factor in the Saddle Road project and other similar endeavours is that it makes use of the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) for Group Homes.
Under this SEPP, group homes can be built for those locked out of the housing market on land that does not have an existing dwelling entitlement, thus providing an incentive for landowners who would not be able to develop the land otherwise.
This strategy is applicable in the Shire because it has a significant number of larger land holdings that are no longer being used for agricultural purposes.
Any such development must still be assessed in terms of flood, fire, social amenity, and environmental impact.
It will be up to the board of the trust to decide on which land is purchased for future projects.
The board is made up of the Manager of the Byron Community Centre, Louise O’Connell, the Chief Executive of Social Futures, Tony Davies, local developer/philanthropist John Callanan, Brandon Saul, and Tracey Mackie, who has 20 years senior and executive management experience in the aged care, health, and community services sectors.