Belongil Beach, Byron Bay from the air.
Belongil Beach, Byron Bay from the air.

We’re fast becoming an unaffordable rich ‘enclave’

Skyrocketing house prices and escalating rents are turning the Northern Rivers into a rich enclave where workers on average wages cannot afford to live.

The onset of COVID-19 sea changers has exacerbated the problem.

The typical story you hear around the traps is that rich Sydney and Melbourne folks are selling up their homes in the city, buying property on the Northern Rivers (sometimes sight unseen), sending house prices and rentals into a stratosphere previously unseen.

The median house price in Byron Bay is now $2.2 million, which has risen by 52 per cent in a year

Median rents are now $780 a week, that's if you can find one, with reports of groups of 30 or more turning up to rental inspections.

And for once this is not just a Byron problem, or a coastal problem, its impacting the entire region.

Rents in the Richmond Valley have increased by 14.3 per cent over the past year to $400 a week, while Lismore rents increased by 7.5 per cent to $430.

There are signs all over the place this property squeeze is having a negative impact on employers being able to recruit staff.

Without international backpackers, there is a major shortage of staff for jobs in hospitality, tourism and the agricultural sector, particularly fruit picking.

In short, restaurants and cafes can't find waiters, cooks or front of house staff, stores on the high street can't find shop assistants and fruit is literally withering and dying on the vine.

In part it's because wages in these sectors aren't keeping pace with house and rental prices.

And yet we would probably still get an influx of younger, or older Aussies to do the job, if they could even get their foot in the door in terms of rental accommodation around here.

During our Futures Northern Rivers series a few years ago, demographer Bernard Salt identified the Northern Rivers as a hotspot for entrepreneurs escaping the city and setting up micro businesses.

Mr Salt found this region was the third highest centre for business ownership behind Sydney's Northern Beaches region and the Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven region.

Mr Salt said while the NSW state average for business ownership was 15 per cent and the Australian average at 14 per cent, more than 20 per cent of the Richmond-Tweed workforce identified they were the owner-managers of their own businesses.

While a number of local small businesses had been created by residents who had been born or raised in the area, there was a large group who had brought their businesses with them.

Byron Bay topped the list of the local towns with the highest number of business owners, with an enormous 30 per cent, doubling the national and state average.

While that's a welcome sign that interstaters are moving here and setting up micro businesses around them, if there is nowhere for their workers to live, or those in allied service industries either, what kind of skewed population are we going to have into the future?

Perhaps we need to bring the same level of innovation to the liveability of our region as we do to the business side of it.

Otherwise, we better put up the 'house full' sign right now.

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