That is reprehensible in an affluent society that claims to believe in a fair go. The average rent on a three bedroom dwelling in the Tweed Shire one year ago was $330 a week, higher than equivalent premises in Sydney. Wages, on the other hand, average just under $700 a week compared to Sydney’s almost $1,200. No rental property remains in a real estate agent window for more than a few days. Most never make it at all.
Despite these facts, local bureaucrats have taken it upon themselves to don inspection torches, clipboards and detailed maps to cleanse the region of illegal tenants. In one case, a woman had moved into the annexe of a caravan she was renting so that she could sublet the bedroom. That is the bedroom in the caravan we are talking about, not a bedroom in the house.
When a rainstorm delivered her a bout of pneumonia and her daughter turned up at welfare seeking food, the situation came to the attention of authorities who declared the caravan illegal and served notice on the rate-paying landlord who lived in a separate house. The landlord has decided it is easier to sell the house to a refugee from the city than it is to deal with tenants, tenancy laws and the inconvenience of dealing with the great unhoused.
The bureaucratic logic is sound: allow landlords like that to suck the lifeblood out of those poor souls desperate to shelter in any tumbledown structure and you encourage a culture of exploitation and unhealthy living arrangements. The logic is also flawed. Throw those people onto the streets and you simple expose them to greater exploitation where they end up losing their health and dignity as well.
With an ongoing economic downturn and increasing flood of refugees from dysfunctional cities the situation will only get worse.
The solution, of course, is simple. We just need to adopt the housing model that has evolved over five millennia on five different continents and modernise it to take advantage of twenty first century science. Build villages where people of all income levels can cluster together to share those resources that the poorest among us cannot afford to own – swimming pools, for example. That way the cost of building and delivery of community services goes down and the amenity and access goes up.
The challenge is finding the political will to cut through the red tape and fight off the vested interests that prevent it happening. Recent state government legislation, for example, strips local councils of the right to establish independent building codes that could regulate to encourage such developments and discriminate against profitable but wasteful development that alienates the environment, the poor and squanders resources.
The irony is that if we don’t, it will happen anyway. It will just happen out of sight, where health inspectors and police do not go and the poor can be exploited terribly and suffer miserably.
If you have a spare room or a garage, put someone in it now. You will increase your income and their quality of life. Even if your new tenant is somewhat irritating, you will be less lonely, more entertained and happier. After all, there is nothing more rewarding than having someone to bitch about.