Byron Bay: From 'paradise' to 'hell for the homeless'

Byron Bay rallies for local housing
Byron Bay rallies for local housing. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

More than 200 people rallied on Christmas Eve at Main Beach to call for a 90 day limit on using residential houses for short stay holiday accommodation like AirBnB.

A significant rise in the number of investors buying properties for the short-term holiday market is pricing residents out of the market.

Local Greens MP Tamara Smith told the rally that “the fundamental principle is that we want homes for people to live in”. The current situation represents a “complete loss of the right for homes to live in”.

Mayor Michael Lyon said there was a time when if you could get a job, then you could get a house to live in in Byron Bay. However, he said, “by the time 2016, 2017 rolled around, we saw a massive dwindling of supply caused by this advent of AirBnB and we saw so many of our homes being converted for this commercial use”.

The council then began prosecuting people who used residential dwellings as commercial holiday accommodation and “the courts backed us on that”. Then the state government stepped in offering a 180-day limit on short stay holiday letting.

Lyon said that the “sweet spot” for the industry is “between 90–180 days — that's what makes it a viable option”. After negotiations, the government offered a 90-day cap.

“This was not our idea, it was the government's idea,” he said. “It's not the best policy response, it is not perfect, but it will work, it will make a difference.”

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Hotels are for tourists, houses are for residents
Hotels are for tourists, houses are for residents. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

In June, the government gave “delegated authority” to the local council to determine policies like this. It was about to come into effect, however, the government withdrew the delegated authority just before a meeting that had been scheduled the week before the rally.

Smith described the New South Wales government's role as “a story of broken promises”.

She said the council was vetoed “at the eleventh hour” after "massive lobbying by vested interests” including international corporations and “very, very wealthy people” who mostly don't live in the region.

One speaker said that Byron Bay has been transformed from a “paradise" to a “hell for the homeless”.

Rally MC and former Greens candidate Mandy Nolan thanked everybody for coming out on Christmas Eve and said it was an appropriate time to rally. If the first Christmas were to take place in Byron Bay, she said, “Mary would not have found even a barn because that would have been on short-term holiday letting as well”.

“There is no point building new homes if you can't assure they're going to stay on the residential market,” she said. “There is a hole in our residential bucket and we need to plug it.”

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Homes not hotels
Homes not hotels. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

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Mandy Nolan
Mandy Nolan. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

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AirBnB = home theft
AirBnB = home theft. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

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