REVOLUTION COMING: Byron councillor Paul Spooner.
REVOLUTION COMING: Byron councillor Paul Spooner. Samantha Elley

OPINION: New game of homes in Byron Shire

BYRON Shire likes to see itself as a subtropical paradise that attracts creatives, seekers, surfers and thinkers, all looking to establish a sustainable alternative to the wastelands that developed in post-war 1950s and '60s suburban Australia.

The Byron Shire was supposed to be different. We were supposed to be building a better society, developing an alternative way of looking after ourselves and the land we inhabit.

We were supposed to be a beacon of light shining the way to a brighter, environmentally friendlier and more inclusive future.

But over the years something went wrong. We forgot about an essential element in building a sustainable community. We no longer provide housing for all our people.

The Byron Shire LGA has more houses listed on holiday-letting platforms than you can poke a stick at, while the cost of housing is the most unaffordable on the east coast of Australia.

The Affordable Housing Income Gap report identified a weekly income of $1967 was needed to avoid housing stress in the Byron Shire.

In other words, you need a yearly income of $100,000 to live comfortably in the Shire.

Most local people, especially the young, earn way below this figure, working in low-paid, seasonal hospitality and tourism-related jobs.

The Occupy Wall Street movement that came to prominence in September 2011 highlighted the deep economic divide between the haves and have-nots. It focused worldwide attention on the growing inequality infecting advanced capitalist economies. Its clarion call was to establish a global justice movement based on the slogan "We are the 99per cent”.

While it's great to highlight a problem, it's politically impotent to only focus on what you oppose. It's critical to move beyond knee-jerk reactionism and focus on what is needed to thrive as a cohesive and diverse community.

It's time the Byron Shire created a solution to the provision of affordable housing for local people.

Housing will never be affordable in the Byron Shire unless we seed a revolution in land ownership and control. It's time to begin.

A peaceful revolution where we start doing things differently.

The prevailing system of private ownership along with government subsidies aimed at creating affordability has always fuelled higher house prices and a game of investment- based property monopoly.

We can do it differently and make houses homes again. We need to occupy our land, build our housing and save our community.

We can do this by creating a community land trust. A trust that is capable of building homes owned and managed by our community.

A trust that acts as a steward of the land rather than a landlord seeking the highest investment return.

A community land trust that breaks the market monopoly of private home ownership and creates long-term individual leases up to 99 years for land that individuals and families are able to build on to own their housing or to create community-managed facilities and enterprises.

A community land trust is not a commune, community title or some quasi government corporation. It's an independent legal organisation that is community owned and operated for the dedicated purpose of keeping housing affordable now and, most importantly, into the future.

It's about allowing local residents and workers to own and live in their own homes at an affordable rate linked to local incomes.

The origins of community land trusts may be traced to a 1950s Indian land reform movement inspired by the work of Mahatma Gandhi. This initiative was known as Bhoodan, or the Land Gift Movement. The mission was to persuade wealthy landowners to give a percentage of their land to landless rural people.

Community land trusts have been operating in the US since the 1960s, eventually spreading to Canada and the UK.

Land trusts can begin by government grant, private donation or investment.

See community-wealth.org /strategies/panel/clts/ index.html

In the US there are more than 250 land trusts providing affordable local housing and in the UK nearly 50 schemes have begun.

It's time we do the same in the Byron Shire.

Byron Community Land Limited, a not-for-profit public company, is holding its first annual general meeting at 6pm on Monday, December 10, at the Byron Community Centre.

If you are interested in becoming a member or want to help create or obtain affordable housing in the Byron Shire, email info@bcll.org.au or phone Paul Spooner on 0434771510.


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