HOUSING CRISIS: What's causing it and can we fix it?
The Northern Rivers is in the midst of a serious housing crisis which is putting vulnerable people at even more risk.
Renters are struggling to find places to live, with vacancy rates at all-time lows.
There are daily call-outs on social media from people looking for homes for themselves, their kids, their mothers and their mates.
Rents in the Richmond Valley have increased by 14.3 per cent over the past year to $400 a week, Lismore rents increased by 7.5 per cent to $430, and Byron increased 7.1 per cent to $750, according to the Domain Rent Report for the December quarter.
For distressed tenants, it's a bleak picture.
Property inspections regularly see up to 50 potential tenants battling it out in the hope of securing a home.
Even people with steady, full-time jobs are facing the very real prospect of homelessness ‒ a worrying trend which is on the rise, according to Social Futures chief executive Tony Davies.
Real estate agents say there is a huge demand for, and an acute shortage of, rentals throughout the region, and many are working with buyers to keep properties in the rental cycle.
It comes as house prices are surging, making it almost impossible for first home buyers to get into an already competitive market.
It seems the only good news is for investors, who are making healthy profits.
Many of the homes that sell are being snapped up by owner-occupiers, which takes important rental housing stock out of the equation and leaves even more people facing the prospect of homelessness.
Median house prices have skyrocketed in the past 12 months.
In Byron Bay, the median house price is now $2.2 million, but prices are up in all towns on the Northern Rivers, according to realestate.com.au:
● Lismore: $376,000 (up from $340,000)
● Ballina: $660,000 (up from $620,000)
● Casino: $315,000 (up from $296,000)
● Kyogle: $321,500 (up from $282,000).
Can we fix the housing crisis?
Mr Davies says the solution is for governments to make significant investments in social and affordable housing.
A "meaningful" increase in Jobseeker payments is also needed.
"Increasingly, governments are paying attention, but it's happening too slowly," he said.
"The government should set targets, for example, 25 (affordable) homes in every electorate, every year.
"What we really need to see is a long-term investment to build up housing stock.
"This is a very significant issue and we have a moral responsibility here.
"We need to constantly advocate to the bureaucrats and to the governments … investment in social housing frees up the whole market.
"This is about investing in the very fabric of our society."
Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson agrees that "intelligent" solutions are needed from government leaders before it's too late.
What projects are happening right now?
There are a number of projects slated for parts of the Northern Rivers that will help to build up affordable housing stock.
One is the construction of a four-storey, $6.5 million block of 30 units in McKenzie St, Lismore.
North Coast Community Housing lodged the development application with Lismore City Council earlier this year.
If approved, it will provide a much-needed mix of private and affordable rentals and a component of social housing.
In Casino, work is starting on two homes as part of the $26 million pilot project, the Medium Density Housing Program.
The aim is to provide "well-designed and sustainable homes".
Another project in Casino, where there is a 10-year wait for public housing, is a $2 million project for a block of vacant land in Centre St.
Momentum Collective, a community organisation which specialises in creating safe and suitable housing, has lodged a development application for the site.
If approved, they would build eight units to be used for affordable housing.