Affordability a hot topic in lead up to council elections

UNSUSTAINABLE AND UNJUST: Byron mayoral candidate Mark Swivel (centre) says council has a role to play in tackling Byron's housing crisis.
UNSUSTAINABLE AND UNJUST: Byron mayoral candidate Mark Swivel (centre) says council has a role to play in tackling Byron's housing crisis.

Housing affordability is a hot topic in the Byron Shire as the race to September's council elections ramps up.

The shire has been in the spotlight in recent weeks with national media highlighting the issues of homelessness, the lack of rental properties and the impact of rising house prices on the community.

Mayoral candidate Mark Swivel calls it a crisis: "Women and their kids sleeping in cars, people sleeping rough, scores of people chasing every single rental is unsustainable and unjust, especially when such wealth is being acquired by others, just around the corner. It's not what this, or any, community wants."

He says there's no simple answer, "but we definitely need Byron Council to take a more active role in creating homes and houses for less well-off people. If Byron is to stay 'Byron' we have to act - to keep this community diverse, creative and interesting."

He says the key is solutions that disconnect land from the private market.

"We need a council land audit and to set aside land immediately for lower income housing, and put them in a community land trust that controls rents and house prices 'off-market'.

"We can learn from successful projects overseas like in Queenstown or Aspen, other towns defined by tourism and inequality. We need a community wide debate. I don't have all the answers but I think we need a long term plan and short term action, now."

His proposals include emergency shelter for those in need on vacant land at festival sites and solutions such as tiny homes or dormitories to keep essential workers and creatives in the shire.

He also wants to see more flexible approvals to create more homes for existing properties including MOs, to let families to look after ageing parents and build homes for their kids. Other measures would include restricting short-term holiday letting, enforcing granny flat approvals, and prioritising homes for locals.

"We know council has only limited influence on this critical issue. But it is time to wake up and drive housing policies by a vision of the community we want - rather than the obsolete rules that no longer apply to our unique regional area. "

Independent mayoral candidate Michael Lyon has also named housing as a top priority for his team - which includes women's housing advocate Sama Balson - and says structural issues must be addressed.