Of the many social issues being passionately discussed in the local community in recent years, few could be more pressing and urgent than the need for more affordable housing for the region’s ever-growing permanent population.
The Byron Shire is not alone in this dilemma, of course. Australia-wide, and indeed world-wide, the need for not only affordable housing, but eco-sustainable and securetenure housing, has been recognised by thousands of lateral thinkers and forward planners over the past three decades who have sought to come up with solutions to this ever- growing problem.
(image shown with caption ‘Shipping containers recycled as housing in London.’)
In America, for instance, a growing number of Community Land Trusts have been established for the management of properties which have been donated or bequeathed in order to create perpetual affordable housing collectives. Whether the tenants buy in to the communities or rent long term, the founding goal is to provide permanent, guaranteed secure tenure for people who would otherwise be left in severe long-term housing stress.
With this same goal in mind, in Germany a Tenant Syndicate was birthed in the late 1980s which sought to collectively purchase land and buildings that could be removed permanently from the speculation market in order to create tenant-organised affordable housing communities in perpetuity.
Together with the Syndicate, future tenants of an afford- able housing project establish a ‘limited liability’ company (Ltd) which then collectively buys a property, or acquires a long-term lease of government or private land. As a company the tenant collective can also secure loans – preferably from private ethical sources as opposed to banking institutions – to help finance their community building project. The tenants then pay rent to the company, but are simultaneously responsible for all aspects of running the company, including overseeing the development of the property and the building of their individual dwellings.
In this way affordable housing has been created and protected from future exploitation by real estate speculators. The German Tenant Syndicate has successfully implemented 33 tangible projects thus far, with dozens more in the works throughout Europe. In August 2009 the Syndicate made the decision to link up with, and support, other equivalent projects world-wide.
In response to this, local German-born resident Gabi Bonnet, who has a background in architecture, town planning and sustainable design, began researching and regularly giving talks on comparable ways a local tenant’s syndicate could be formed to establish small, affordable, low-impact eco communities here in the Shire. As a result, a steering commit- tee has been formed to look at ways to take these ideals through to actual implementation.
‘Tenant communities,’ says Gabi, ‘can be designed and focused around shared interests such as art, music, spiritual val- ues, gardening, permaculture or retirement, with the potential of becoming self-sustaining and even developing commercial opportunities for the ten- ants through on-site cottage industries. Tenants with disabilities or who are studying can be located close to services and public transport. Some collectives may also find innovative ways to utilise and encourage rehabilitation of the unused rail corridor.’
Under the interim name ‘Transition Byron Shire’ (www.transitionbyronshire.org) the steering committee has begun consulting with the Byron Shire Council in light of the Council’s own suggested affordable housing strategies (see http://www.byron.nsw.gov.au/ affordable-housing), and are looking in particular at two council properties which have been earmarked for small affordable housing projects in Suffolk Park and in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate.
Economical and low-impact modes of building such as rammed earth, mud brick, bamboo and straw bale are also being scrutinised, along with the possibility of relocating older houses and recycling attractively-renovated shipping containers which are already weather-proof and structurally strong.
With the support of the Byron Shire Council, Transition Byron Shire will be holding a public meeting on Sustain- able House Day and is inviting everyone who is interested in becoming involved in a local ‘affordable housing eco community’ to come along and hear presentations and participate in the discussion. The meeting will be facilitated by Peter and Eshana of Sustain- able Futures Australia and will be held at the Mullumbimby Community College on Sun- day September 11, beginning at 2pm sharp. Enquiries can be directed to Gabi Bonet at firstname.lastname@example.org.