Jonathan Sri is a member of the Brisbane City Council. He also lives in a five bedroom sharehouse with seven other people. While this may be pretty standard for anyone in their 20s living in a major city, it's not really the living arrangements you'd expect for government official.
Scrutiny has been building around Sri's sharehouse over the past week, from a potential council investigation to threats of fallout for his landlord. Brisbane's Lord Mayor Graham Quirk even weighed in yesterday, telling the Brisbane Times that councillors should observe the law and that Sri was walking a "fine line."
Unfortunately for Sri, sharehouses with more than five people living in them (who aren't related) are illegal in Brisbane, which means he faces the awkward prospect of being evicted by the very council he sits on.
But the facts in this case seem pretty clear: Sri lives in the slightly overcrowded party sharehouse of your dreams, where nobody writes passive aggressive notes about the dishes. Instead, everyone spends evenings re-enacting scenes from He Died With a Felafel in His Hand.
When VICE called up Sri to confirm this, he told us that he lives with his friends because he enjoys it, but also because he wants to stay connected with the voters he represents.
"The vast majority of people in local council and state governments own their own homes. They don't live in sharehouses, and they don't get it. Fundamentally, they're unrepresentative," he said. "There are thousands of renters in Brisbane and they don't have a voice. I know literally dozens of sharehouses with more than nine people living together. But I'm the only councillor who lives like this."
Sri explains that his eight-person sharehouse isn't exactly the cesspit of youthful indiscretion his fellow councillors probably picture. "Our house is actually quite clean," he says. "We have a vegetable patch, we have chickens, a compost system."
The councillor says he's brought up the issue of housing affordability at local council meetings, but it has fallen on deaf ears. "Yesterday during a city council meeting, I asked the mayor if he wanted to see house prices rise or fall, and he said he was happy to see them continue rising," he says. "How can he reasonably penalise people for living together in sharehouses to keep their rent down?"
Sri says it's unfair for councillors to expect young people not to try and make rent cheaper by cramming their friends into sharehouses. "This is fundamentally a problem of housing affordability," he says. "They're doing very little to improve housing affordability for younger adults, but they're penalising us for living in sharehouses with more than five people."
According to a report released by the Real Estate Institute of Queensland last year, the average house price in Brisbane reached $615,000 at the end of 2015. That's about six percent higher than the year before.
Despite the backlash, Sri is adamant he's staying put. "I don't plan to move out at this stage," he says. "I don't think the rule makes sense, and I'm taking a stand on behalf of all the other people in this situation. The thousands of young people who can't afford housing."
"I love living in a sharehouse. Ours is really supportive—we cook for each other, look after each other when we're sick. If someone needs a lift to the airport we take them," Sri explains, literally making me cry because I yelled at my housemate this morning and now feel terrible about it. "We have house parties. It's nice to live with your friends! The people making these rules are completely out of touch with how young people live."
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