Byron: Bohemian surf mecca or tired McBackpackers’ hub?

Local social housing services advises clients to ‘be realistic’ about living in Byron Bay, says Tony Davies, CEO of The Northern Rivers Social Development Council.
Local social housing services advises clients to ‘be realistic’ about living in Byron Bay, says Tony Davies, CEO of The Northern Rivers Social Development Council. David Nielsen

BYRON Bay was at the centre of an online culture war this week.

Its haters have written-off the tourist town as a tired McBackpackers' hub. However, its rusted-on residents, including Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson, still see relevance in the bohemian surf mecca.

Commentators agree on one thing, however. A dearth of affordable housing for long-term Byron Bay residents is having a detrimental effect on the town's culture and diversity.

Tony Davies, CEO of The Northern Rivers Social Development Council, believes boosting the town's social housing stock with creative redevelopment is key to maintaining Byron Bay's cultural diversity.

"In terms of what we've seen in the last 10 years, prices in Byron continue to outpace prices in the rest of region," he said.

"The housing prices make it difficult for a range of people, including low-income earners such as hospitality workers and people on government income support, to get in.

"In projecting forward, we need to see innovation with housing options, ensuring older residents stay in place, encouraging long-term residents, and single women in particular, to remain in the area."

Mr Davies said local social housing services were advising clients to "be realistic" about living in Byron Bay.

However, Mr Davies said Byron Bay's strength still lay in its "extraordinary self-reliance through its level of volunteering".


BYRON Bay Community Centre coordinator Cherie Bromley knows first-hand how Byron Bay's lack of housing affordability is crushing community resilience.

For the first time, the centre is having difficulties filling voluntary positions.

"We work with a skeleton staff over December and January but by February we are usually okay. But this year, we are struggling," she said.

"I've just lost two volunteers this month because they had to move out of town. One moved to Tweed, the other Ballina.

"I have one volunteer who's staying overseas in Bali because he can't find anywhere to move back to in Byron."

Ms Bromley observed the organisation also suffered from volunteer attrition from failed professional seachangers.

"We see a lot of successful people landing here from the city with high expectations and a creative bent - graphic artists or high-end managers. But they realise they have to either work at the bakery or leave," she said.


North Coast Community Housing chief executive John McKenna said there were some promising social housing projects in the pipeline for Byron Shire.

"In November Byron council has passed a resolution for the Station Street, Mullumbimby, redevelopment. North Coast Community Housing is looking at whether we can put together a 32,000 square metre social housing development there," Mr McKenna said.

"It would have a value of $3 million and aim to maximise its social housing dollar value."

The organisation is also looking at the possibility of building social housing on the site of the State Government-owned Mullumbimby Hospital after it closes this year.

Topics:  byron bay

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