Housing Affordability in the Northern Rivers

Housing Affordability in the Northern Rivers

Housing affordability is a serious issue in the Northern Rivers Region.  It is causing a large displacement of people primarily young people and the elderly.  There are a number of factors contributing to this crisis.

Housing costs in the Northern Rivers, particularly the coastal shires of Ballina, Byron and Tweed are high compared to the average cost of housing in NSW. At the same time average income is significantly below average income for NSW.  (see accompanying table)

The Northern Rivers, particularly the coastal shires have a rapidly growing population and housing development is either being intentionally constrained such as in Byron Shire or is not keeping track with demand, both add to the upward pressure on housing costs. There are a number of factors contributing to the expanding population that also contribute to wider social and economic issues in the Northern Rivers.

A large proportion of people moving to the Northern Rivers are “sea change” and “tree change” people who have cashed in houses in Sydney and Melbourne and relocated to the Northern Rivers for a “simple” lifestyle.  These people tend to be either families or older baby boomers who expect 3, 4 & 5 bedroom houses, often seeking their personal “dream” house whether they need it or not.  The local housing industry is geared to building these larger houses. Lower income people who currently live here, particularly young and old people increasingly require smaller housing one and two bedroom units or specialised housing which is not being built in sufficient numbers. This deficiency of appropriate housing in the Northern Rivers has caused people residing here to be displaced, usually to the hinterland or SE Queensland.

The issue of holiday letting and ownership of second houses “weekenders”, particularly in the coastal shires of Byron, Ballina and Tweed has caused housing stock to be withdrawn from the permanent rental market which has caused further upward pressure on rentals.  For example the permanent population of Byron Shire actually fell in the period between the 2001 and 2006 census periods.

Finally the present State Government has caused further stress on housing by not providing equitable resourcing for either community or public housing.  The Northern Rivers has traditionally missed out on a range of social service resources because of its voting pattern and distance from Sydney.

Side effects of this process include:

  • Internal displacement, where people in the coastal shires who are unable to afford rentals move inland to places like Lismore where rents are cheaper, this movement has caused subsequent displacement of people moving further inland to places like Casino or Kyogle, or to SE Queensland.
  • Often people taking up employment in the area are unable to find appropriate affordable housing near to their place of work.  The wider issue of “key worker” housing is increasingly manifesting itself so that even middle income people cannot afford housing in some places.
  • The people most affected by the increasing unaffordability of housing are either low income workers or people on welfare.

Housing Affordability in General

If you want more information regarding housing affordability a good independent source of information is AHURI (http://www.ahuri.edu.au/themes/housing_affordability/)

As at 2007, 10.9% of NSW families were in ‘housing stress’, i.e. they were paying more than 30% of their gross income on recurrent housing costs – that is, 387,876 families were in housing stress out of 3,552,460 families across the state.