Over the past decade, crisis accommodation has been moved out of the Byron area as part of a so-called “centralisation” of social services, according to local newspaper Echo. Louise O'Connell, general manager of the Byron Community Centre, confirmed that almost all of the temporary, affordable and emergency housing in the region is now located in the very towns and cities that were hit hardest by the floods—places like Lismore, where at one point the flood waters reached a height of 14 metres—rather than Byron itself. It’s no secret that calamities of this scale disproportionately impact society’s most vulnerable, their shockwaves demarcated along the fault lines of class, race and socioeconomic status. Gentrification plays a major role in that trend. Of the 700,000-plus people who were impacted by the floods, an estimated 4.2 percent were Indigenous residents and traditional owners, many of whom have similarly been priced out of secure housing in Byron—which sits on Indigenous Bundjalung Country—and forced to live in volatile areas further afield. Cabbage Tree Island, a First Nations community some 40 kilometres south of Byron, was almost completely submerged by the rising waters.
“I've got nowhere to go. I cannot emphasise that enough: I have nowhere to go.”
There are encouraging stories of philanthropists, millionaires and celebrities pitching in to help with rescues and relief—some locals suggested that gentrifier’s guilt was spurring them into action—but many individuals who have borne the brunt of the disaster feel as though they are out of Byron’s sight and mind.
“The billionaires are pushing the millionaires out of Byron.”
Faced with rising tides, rising housing prices and rising likelihood of extreme weather events, some are having to make that hard decision. May is looking to the north; Rouillon is desperately hoping to find more crisis accommodation before her current place is knocked down; and Tyrrell is weighing up her options.“My knee jerk reaction right when the floods happened, because of where I've seen this area heading for a while, was that we were definitely going to be moving back to Ireland,” said Tyrrell.“Let's just say magically me and my kids were able to sort out accommodation here. [But] what does their future look like, as kids who have grown up in this area and call this place home, but will never be able to afford to live here either—or will have to move to some dangerous areas just to be able to afford it?”Even O’Connell, who’s worked on the frontline of the issue for years and watched affordable, secure housing diminish since the 2000s, is at a loss for answers.“We can't see what the solution is,” she said. “I don't know what's going to happen to people who were pushed out of Byron Bay into more affordable areas such as Lismore—and now there's no housing in Lismore. So where do they go?”“The problem is huge.”Follow Gavin Butler on Twitter.
“Researchers have coined a term for the way in which climate change dictates the value of certain areas, and in turn shapes who can and can’t afford to live there: climate gentrification.”