Blue Mountains locals protest housing insecurity, as Airbnb listings rival long-term rental numbers

Blue Mountains locals protest housing insecurity, as Airbnb listings rival long-term rental numbers
  • PublishedMarch 23, 2024

Julie Nelson stares at the dozen rental homes advertised in the window of a real estate agency in the Blue Mountains – and can’t afford any of them.

The 65-year-old was issued with an eviction notice after telling her landlord she couldn’t cover a $15-a-week increase for her Wentworth Falls home.

She was already $50 a week over budget when she signed the lease more than a year ago.

To make ends meet, she’s worked with a financial counsellor, food charities, borrowed money from friends and cut costs where she can.

An older woman with a green jumper standing inside her home, crying
Ms Nelson said it wasn’t “fair” for locals who have “nowhere to go”.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

“The cost of living for me right now is higher than the money I make,” the disability pensioner said.

“I rang [my landlord] up and literally begged them not to put it up, I just couldn’t afford it.”

But as she faces the prospect of her third eviction, she’s confronted by a rental market with few long-term options and climbing prices.

Residents push back 

New South Wales is in the grip of a rental crisis.

But in the Blue Mountains, an estimated 90 per cent of rental listings are being advertised as short term accommodation, according to Blue Mountains Council.

“We have roughly 100 long-term rentals available in the Blue Mountains right now, but we have 1,000 Airbnb available,” Mayor Mark Greenhill said.

“It’s clear that properties that would be normally open to the long-term rental market are being taken up by Airbnb.”

a man wearing glasses looking concerned as he looks at the camera
Mayor Mark Greenhill says there are far more Airbnbs available than there are long-term rentals.(ABC News: Harriet Tatham)

Last night, the community organised a protest against the region’s increasing housing insecurity, marching towards a park with tents opposite the council’s offices.

Protesters called for a levy on homes that sit empty, and a cap of 60 days limiting how long a property can be listed as a short term rental in residential areas.

“New South Wales Government data shows there are five times more long-term rentals than short-term rentals across the Blue Mountains,” a spokesperson for Airbnb said in a statement.

“Airbnb contribut(es) millions to the Blue Mountains economy and helping support thousands of tourism jobs.”

Organisers claim emergency crisis housing is under strain as people live there for up to six months – three times as long.

“We don’t have a housing supply problem, we have a housing availability problem,” Genevieve Murray, co-organiser of the protest and an academic on city, community and regional planning, said.

“Our youth can’t see a future and we’ve got elders struggling with housing.”

Six young people sit at an undercover table in a park, looking at the camera
A movement against short-term rentals in the Blue Mountains is growing.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

‘It’s not fair for locals’

The NSW government is reviewing the rules governing short-term accommodation.

Public feedback recently closed on a discussion paper exploring a range of measures that could unlock housing supply and improve affordability.

“We received hundreds of submissions and thousands of survey responses to that piece of work,” Housing Minister Rose Jackson said.

“And we’re now going to be exploring those suggestions to come up with a new package to reform short term rentals.”

A young woman in a blazer and white tshirt looks at the camera outside in a garden
Rose Jackson says the state government received “hundreds of submissions and thousands of survey responses” regarding its review on short-term rental accommodation.(ABC News: Rani Hayman)

Among the measures being considered is a tax paid by guests when they’re making a booking on sites including Airbnb and Stayz.

This would be similar to the 7.5 per cent levy being introduced by the Victorian government next year, which diverts funds towards social and affordable housing.

Caps on how long a property could be listed as a short term rental are also being considered – just like the one the government is allowing Byron Bay Council to introduce on some non-hosted short term rentals.

A woman stands and talks on the phone inside an office, next to a large sculpture of the Airbnb logo which is larger than her
Airbnb has been accused in the Blue Mountains of having “taken up” long-term rental properties in the market.(Reuters: Gabrielle Lurie)

Short-term rental providers are meeting the measures with mixed responses in their submission to government.

Airbnb and Stayz both conditionally support a booking tax for all short-term accommodation providers, but warn against putting caps on how long properties can be used as short term accommodation.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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