How skyrocketing house prices are killing our towns
Real estate on the Northern Rivers is more unaffordable than ever, with house prices skyrocketing and showing no signs of easing up.
According to Property Value, a product of CoreLogic, the median house price in Byron Bay is now $2.2 million ‒ that's a whopping 52 per cent increase year-on-year.
Median rents are now $780 a week.
It comes as deputy premier John Barilaro this week described the unexpected growth in regional NSW and the associated housing crisis as a "champagne problem".
"These are the problems you want," he said.
His throwaway line was criticised by Social Futures chief executive, Tony Davies, who said that was fine if you were able to afford champagne.
"We have a 0.3 per cent vacancy rate in Byron Bay, people are facing massive rent increases, people are struggling to stay here," he said.
"People still have to work in the local labour market but wages are just not keeping up.
"We are seeing people with jobs, good steady jobs, who are homeless.
"There's an increasing number of these people.
"If you think about it, rents in Byron are upwards of $1000 a week; that's $52,000 a year just for rent.
"It's a serious issue.
"But the bigger issue is, it's not just happening in Byron.
"We're talking about people not being able to buy in Lismore, the rental market there is tighter than we've ever seen it.
"This is really having an impact on the quality of life for people in our region."
Mr Davies called on all levels of government to take action.
He would like to see a "significant, sustained" investment in social and affordable housing, and a meaningful increase in Jobseeker payments.
"Increasingly, governments are paying attention, but it's happening too slowly," he said.
"The government should set targets, for example, 25 (affordable) homes in every electorate, every year."
Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson agreed it was time for serious, solution-based discussions.
He said the "price explosion" in the area was having a massive impact on local residents, along with Airbnbs and short-term holiday letting.
"We're human beings, we're not just a brand … we're a living, breathing community that has some significant problems," he said.
"Our homelessness levels are second only to the capital cities.
"House prices have tripled in eight years, yet our wages haven't tripled, so those who are living here are being left behind.
"We've got some serious issues that need some intelligent heads around the table … filled with a desire to find solutions."
When asked whether it was too late to "save" Byron Bay from becoming an enclave for the rich, Cr Richardson said it was at a tipping point.
"When you are a small area as far as housing availability, and you have a huge desire from the people in the city to come to you, unless you intervene at a tangible level, it is only going to increase in its desirability," he said.
"On top of that, Byron's a place of difference and people are looking for different.
"Left to the market forces … we will never be able to move back to a diverse community in Byron, if left alone.
"But with smart, intelligent, strategic planning from government leaders, we're a chance to keep diversity and keep Byron special."
Despite the problems arising from high property prices and low vacancy rates, local real estate agents say it's good news for the economy.
Ed Silk from Byron Bay Real Estate said the market was showing no signs of slowing and said town was "pumping".
"Demand continues to outweigh supply with many properties being snapped up before they've even been advertised," he wrote in his February update on Facebook.
"The outcome is escalating prices, fuelled by the finite amount of property available in Byron Bay.
"The town is pumping. Restaurants are full, with two-three week waiting lists and everyone is spending, all of which is excellent news for the local economy."
Brett Connable from Ray White Byron Bay agreed there was "very high buyer demand and record-low supply of properties for sale".
"This is pushing competition for property and prices achieved higher and higher," he posted on Facebook.