That there is a housing crisis is news to no-one

Midcoast local government area is at the lower end of the earnings scale and many people are living in poverty. 

Visible homeless is apparent if you head down to one of the reserves by the river. There you will see a few tents and people living in vans and cars with nowhere to go. They get moved on, but then they, or others return. Others remain out of sight, sleeping in cars, or in town when shops are closed, and others out in the scrub. Though during Covid a group of men set themselves up very well in the bush camping in tents with dogs and mates, plus friends and volunteers bringing food. Public facilities of shower and toilets were nearby and all was kept tidy.

That was until council found out and turned off the water and locked the toilets and made them move into single rooms in town. Minus pets. 

But the real scale of homelessness is much greater and less visible. There are significant numbers of people (thousands?) living in unapproved dwellings. These range from shacks to sheds. Some are built of solid recycled hardwood or scavenged materials, some are newly built sheds. What they have in common is that the inhabitants are unable to afford entry to the traditional housing market. And many don’t want to. They’d rather experiment with bottle walls, ferrocement and bamboo, and make-do with composting toilets. And be free of a lifetime of debt.

Let’s face it, if you have casual, part-time or no employment, or are on a pension of any sort, you will not be able to afford the average rental, let alone gather a house deposit and pay a mortgage. For many folk, putting a simple basic dwelling together on a rural block (often owned by someone else) is the most they can manage.

Unfortunately, if someone dobs you in to Council, Council’s approach is to issue a demolition order. What happens to the inhabitants seems to be none of their concern. They want everyone to fit into their expensive little boxes and meet the onerous building standards. 

Those who live on the fringes with poor or no services such as water and power on tap, no sewage, sometimes no rubbish service and dirt roads – more akin to a string of potholes – seldom complain. Partly to not draw attention to themselves, but also because they have few expectations. They are happier living in very basic conditions where they feel some security than be caught up in the rental arms race, where each year rents go up but your income doesn’t and if you can’t pay you’re out.

I can’t help thinking that Council’s resources would be better spent expanding the housing options. Encouraging the construction of ‘granny’ flats and providing guidance to make the process of getting approval more straightforward and ensuring that the flat meets basic but not onerous requirements.

Council needs to be working with the state and federal governments and the private sector to see more diverse housing options constructed. For example, simple units for singles and slightly bigger ones for two people without children. These could be medium density constructions but using more durable and cheaper materials such as steel, colourbond and cement sheet, designed and built in such a way that they can be dismantled and all the materials re-used at a later date. Quality, attractive housing, built with good shared facilities such as a community garden and a common room, might see some older people downsize and give young people a start.

The current modern house is in many ways an environmental disaster. Despite its outward appearance it’s not expected to last more than about 50 years. It’s pine frame, gyprock walls and dark tile roof make it unsuitable to withstand the extreme weather that we all know is coming. A severe hailstorm and the roof gets holes it in and the water gets in, making the gyprock water logged so the ceiling falls in. In floods the gyprock needs to be removed and discarded to stop the mould. The dark roof absorbs heat so without air-conditioning the temperature inside is very unpleasant. 

Modern building standards are no longer fit for purpose, and this will become ever more apparent with each extreme weather event we experience. More flexibility with building materials such as rammed earth, hempcrete and lightweight cement such as aircrete and Hebel should be encouraged. 

A few communities in the US, especially those where homelessness in freezing conditions can actually be fatal, are responding by building very simple and affordable shelters for those without. A good example are Conestoga huts There are already around 200 of these in Oregon, and a number are being built in other northern US states and Canada. These 6 by 10 foot shelters are insulated and lockable, and are being built by volunteers for less than US$500 each.

We don’t all need -or want- huge modern houses. I would argue that it is the push to have everyone isolated in their identical boxes that drives the consumption frenzy that causes us to squander the diminishing resources earth provides. We know that a large part of the mental health crisis in our society comes from alienation: from community and the natural world. By re-thinking how we do housing, we can address some of those issues.

And don’t get me started on the perversity of negative gearing where low income taxpayers subsidise the wealthy to endlessly expand their housing portfolio. 

Susie Russell.


  • Couldn’t,t agree more .As usual Council are the problem not the solution. Burocray gone mad .Great article .

  • What a great piece of journalism.
    I would like to see an official response from council on what their plan looks like rather then just issuing move on notices for people with nowhere to go.
    The old saying “sweeping it under the rug” comes to mind.
    We need a better approach and time council realised that they work for the community to better the community…instead of their current policing approach which appears to get more heavy handed each year. Case in point their new approach to enter private properties in the community to ‘educate’ us on weeds. Uhuh

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