IPC meets STRA meets WTF

February 26th, 2023

The IPC, Independent Planning Commission, has a tough job sorting this one out. If they can solve it, their next mission should be to fix the Middle East. The IPC was asked to adjudicate on the backflip by the state government on their approval to allow Byron Shire to limit Short Term Rental Accommodation to 90 days instead of the statewide 180 days.

Unfortunately, everyone seems to be working off different stats and facts here. The HL industry says there are very few residents these days who make police complaints about noise and disturbance from Holiday Letting. This was countered by a number of locals who spoke to the panel saying their amenities have been seriously affected. The various resident groups estimate the number of HL properties to be many thousands, which is obviously a stretch. One assumes that includes a good proportion of just occasional renters at Xmas and Easter.

The truth, like always, is in the middle. Even though this debate looks polarised, there is still a lot of common ground. No one wants an unregulated, out-of-control STRA industry, that includes the industry itself. Everyone wants a healthy economy and not to kill off tourism. And we all know people who are homeless, living in cars or having to move from the area, or commuting long distances for work. This is unacceptable and we need to act.

Will It Work?

I have been accused of being an apologist for the STRA industry. This is not true and it’s unfortunate when people jump to polarising, binary positions. As said, we all want a solution to the housing crisis, happening in many places, not just here. The main question is whether the 90 cap, instead of the 180-day, is necessary or overkill. Will it really deliver more housing stock that is accessible to ordinary, key-worker locals?

Let’s walk it through. What will happen to a $3 mil plus property in Byron or the hinterland after it ceases to be an STRA listing? The assumption is that the property owner will put it back into the rental pool. That is contested but let’s assume it happens. Homes on these rental platforms, good enough for STRA, will command rentals of $2000 a week or more. Winding back the numbers of STRA listings in places like Barcelona or Berlin works because the apartments go back into a rental pool that is relatively normal and accessible. Byron Shire now has one of the most expensive median house prices in the world. That is not normal.

So, it has never made any sense to me how they are going to house key workers and families on a normal wage.  Yes, it may free up a few studios in the hills or some cheaper houses in Byron Hills or Sunrise Beach. But not enough to make a dent in the demand for affordable housing. That is my first concern.

Concern #2

I do not understand why so many people have engaged with this issue as if it is a magic bullet for the housing crisis. Anecdotal evidence from places that have already introduced a rent cap suggests it does slow the uptake of STRA properties but does very little to increase housing stock.

This issue has taken up too much angst already and distracted everyone from looking at more viable solutions. (Oh, I forgot. Everything is hotly contested in Byron). People who protest against STRA while at the same time protesting against modest medium-density development, which will actually deliver (nearly) affordable dwellings, leaves me a bit flummoxed.

Concern #3

This is Mayor Michael Lyon’s signature policy. In most things, he is fairly measured and rational. Does he hope the 90-day cap diminishes house prices and rentals sufficiently to make them more affordable? If so, he needs to be transparent that this is actually part of the strategy. He has previously made statements to that effect. I admire his self-belief in his ability as a regional mayor to do social engineering and have an effect on macroeconomic forces. I would love to see any politician go to any electorate with a policy of intentionally crashing house prices. That would be interesting to watch.

Concern #4

I don’t believe the legal certainty, or the opportunity for compensation to STRA operators is fully resolved. The existing argument is that private property rights will always trump attempts at legislation. The counter-argument is that property owners should not be allowed to run a ‘business’ in a property that is zoned ‘residential’. That sounds reasonable – but it is not yet the current law and the issue has never been tested in court.

Let’s Move On

The community has the right to lobby for what they want, and don’t want. A good example is keeping McDonald’s or KFC out of town. This has been achieved only because these corporations know they will face opposition which is bad for the brand. But we as a community do not have the right or the legal standing to keep them out if they want to come.

The IPC has to adjudicate the short-term rental issue with all of these factors in mind and not just when some in the community want it, even if it is the majority. There would be majority support for the 180-day cap but I think it is doubtful for the 90-day cap.

Whatever the decision is, please let’s accept it and move on. We have spent too much time on this and we have other fish to fry.

You can make a submission to the IPC at this link. Closes March 8th.

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