Housing Pressures Particularly Acute at the Moment” Says Minister Who Has Gifted Housing to Airbnb


An article published yesterday by ABC Illawarra – ‘Shoalhaven Homeless Hub left without a home – in the middle of an accommodation crisis’. Nick McLaren, Senior News Reporter for the ABC tweeted: “You know the housing crisis can’t get much worse when the Homeless Hub is about to get evicted in Nowra.” The report states hundreds of homeless people could be left without basic services if the Shoalhaven Homeless Hub is unable to find alternative premises. Covid-19 pandemic has pushed up house and rental prices in the region, locking the homeless hub and many others out of both markets. The area’s Federal MP, Fiona Phillips, is quoted as saying: “We absolutely have a homelessness and housing crisis in the Shoalhaven.” It is a sorry state of affairs, given that a senior staffer from Shoalhaven Council recommended to representatives from Stayz/Expedia and the Australian Short Term Rental Association (ASTRA) in the corridors of State Parliament (30/05/16), that they push government to alter the State Environmental Planning Policy [SEPP], which would trigger free access for all operators to commercialise housing.


When last we looked:


Shoalhaven had 3,259 homes (Airbnb) + 2,800 homes (Stayz) = 6,059 short-term tourist/visitor rentals Byron had 3,225 homes (Airbnb) + 1,014 homes (Stayz) = 4,239 short-term tourist/visitor rentals


NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes’ SEPP, setting aside residential zoning across the State in favour of short-term rental operators, came into effect on 01 November. In its ‘stripped down’ form there are no caps on the number of occupants or individual rooms that can be let, no limit on the size of a property, and ‘complying development’ requirements for premises on bush fire and flood prone land has also been removed. “Landlords are so seduced by ‘doing Airbnb’ the normal regulatory system for rentals will be undermined. The professional investor operators will develop ways to get around the Act (as they have in all other jurisdictions). The naïve ‘host’ who lets their own home won’t even realise what they are doing. But the last laugh will be on the ‘host’, as every short-term rental ‘arrangement’ with exclusive possession is a common law lease. So…the ‘host’ will have to go to the Supreme Court to evict clients.” Rob Stokes’ statewide approach is considered reckless by many. And by many others, Senior Counsel included, as contempt for our proprietary rights.


The Byron local government area was granted an exemption until 31 January 2022, due no doubt to persistent lobbying by Greens Ballina State MP Tamara Smith.


On Wednesday, Tamara Smith questioned Rob Stokes in the NSW Parliament:

“My question is directed to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, and Minister for Transport and Roads. Given the Government's commitment to protect our community from the over-proliferation of short-term holiday letting, will the Minister defer the application of the statewide policy for Byron shire until the Gateway determination is concluded?”


Rob Stokes’ reply:

“I thank the member for Ballina for her question and for her advocacy on behalf of her community on this important issue to the council and the community of Byron shire. Housing pressures across New South Wales are particularly acute at the moment, and nowhere more so than on the State's North Coast. I know for some time the council has been grappling with the issues of demand, partly created through people seeking to relocate with the benefits of flexible working that I guess have been a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen changes in settlement patterns. That is great news for flexibility for many families but it creates additional pressures in very attractive regional areas like the far North Coast.

It has also been something of a perfect storm when looking at the economic disruption around accommodation that has been generated by short-term rentals. We have seen that issue coming for some time, which is why it was recognised in February 2019, due to strong lobbying by council and others at the time, to ensure that while we wanted to move to statewide clear rules about short-term rental accommodation across New South Wales, there was a special case for a different approach to be taken because of the unique pressures faced in the Byron shire. The council is doing its best to look at innovative solutions to its housing challenges. One of the issues that we can always look at in providing more accommodation for local people is to increase supply, but when there is a very desirable and fragile coastal environment, like Byron shire, the opportunity for more housing supply is understandably difficult. So we have to look at more innovative solutions.

…I have worked with council on its plans for 22 Stuart Street, Mullumbimby, as well as its innovative ideas around tiny houses and its advocacy to ensure they progress their Gateway application to see if a unique or bespoke solution can be achieved in short‑term rental accommodation in the Byron shire.

That exclusion from the statewide policy was first provided to Byron in July 2019, as mentioned. It has been extended on a couple of occasions and it now has until the end of summer to complete that work. To be honest, that has provided a bit over three years to do that work. I believe that is a good amount of time to provide that certainty to the community to finalise the socio-economic work needed to justify the particular solution it is seeking. My instruction to the department is always to work with councils to finalise the outstanding work that they need to do, but there is a process and there have been deferrals. At some point I need to draw a line in the sand and say, "Now is the time that you need to come forward with a concrete proposal based with justification through evidence." I certainly will work with council to help it achieve that deadline, but I do not think it would be appropriate to entertain a further extension beyond those that have already been provided. Nonetheless, I am very happy to work with the member for Ballina, her office and the council to ensure that important evidentiary base is prepared as quickly as possible so that we can advance on this challenge. In conclusion, I thank Byron shire for its submission to the Regional Housing Taskforce and the way in which it is working cooperatively to solve what are some very complex issues for everyone across New South Wales, but no more so than in Byron shire.”

NSW Ministers’ Diary Disclosures over the past five years show regular official meetings with lobbyists and representatives from Stayz/Expedia, and Airbnb – Airbnb, thanks to Sydney-based staff, also enjoyed ‘personal’ connections with MPs/policy makers at all levels, far and wide… All the while, community representatives were refused permission to speak on the record during a Parliamentary Inquiry, would be “in contempt of Parliament” were they to provide a copy of their submissions to a third party, had further submissions to parliament and every meeting request ignored, received calls asking whether ‘life insurance’ was held, and received repeated threats from State MPs who voted on short-term rental legislation without declaring that their properties were listed on Court Orders with Penal Notice“Illegal Use of Premises”. Today, Luke Walton, Executive Director, Housing and Economics, NSW Planning, on behalf of Rob Stokes - without answering questions - writes (MDPE21/2849): “…we will not be entering into further correspondence with you.”


Figures available would indicate that the loss of housing in the Shoalhaven region well exceeds that of the Byron Shire. Has Rob Stokes or anyone within his Department bothered to research the full extent of housing lost to Airbnb, Stayz/Expedia, Booking.com, Lastminute.com, VRBO, Trivago plus the hundreds of other foreign and locally owned online booking platforms? Given the Minister’s refusal to correspond, one concludes that neither Stokes nor those in the Department of Planning have any idea of the true number of homes lost, the dreadful impacts on housing supply and affordability, the number of tenants evicted, the extent and misery of homelessness in NSW, and the impacts on the lives of residents who, having purchased/rented residential housing, find their home lives shredded by transients in commercial, unstaffed ‘hotels’ in their residential buildings and neighbourhoods.


Rob Stokes...Rob Stokes…


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