Bellingen & Nambucca Affordable Housing Local Solutions Forum

People checking out the tiny home brought by Kim Connoll. Photo Jay Black from And the Trees
People checking out the tiny home brought by Kim Connoll. Photo Jay Black from And the Trees

Many months of planning and preparation paid off last week when over 100 participants attended the second annual Bellingen & Nambucca Affordable Housing Local Solutions Forum in Bellingen. The two-day forum was an opportunity for local residents, housing industry professionals, local government, experts and others to come together to discuss potential solutions to the complex issue of affordable housing.

Forum organiser Rose West says the event's key purpose was to highlight the emerging solutions that can make a difference locally. "It was exciting to see all the local speakers share their passion for progressing solutions to our local affordable housing crisis" Rose says. "It just shows how much we care for each other in our community and the impact we can make when we work together."

The forum hosted a number of speakers from near and far who were equally committed to exploring practical and innovative solutions that can work locally. These projects included the development of a Community Land Trust (CLT), which is an innovative model that keeps homes affordable in perpetuity. Forum organiser Vicki Parkes thinks that CLTs can support local families to stay in the region for generations to come.

"The CLT model keeps communities affordable and connected- it's solutions like this that we are excited to explore," she said.

Kerry Pearse opening the forum. Photo Jay Black from And the Trees

Kerry Pearse opening the forum. Photo Jay Black from And the Trees

Kim Connolly from Tiny Habitat Homes brought her Tiny Home prototype along to highlight the increasing rate of homelessness among older, single women. Kim thinks that tiny homes represent a tiny solution to a big problem, that of "older, single women retiring into poverty and homelessness." Kim opened her tiny home up to the public and shared that she's currently constructing a fully accessible prototype.

The forum's keynote speakers included the executive officer of National Shelter, Adrian Pisarski, who spoke to the national tragedy of homelessness, the degree of stress and insecurity renters face and the need for more leadership from the Federal Government.

The forum also heard Dr Gregory Smith of Southern Cross University speak to the lived experience of homelessness and life on the margins. Gregory closed the afternoon plenary session by reflecting that housing affordability is a key part of ensuring that our communities remain caring and inclusive places to live.

Panel session with Dr Gregory Smith. Photo Jay Black from And the Trees

Panel session with Dr Gregory Smith. Photo Jay Black from And the Trees

Local government also had a strong presence, with a number of Bellingen and Nambucca Shire councillors and staff in attendance. Bellingen Mayor Dominic King formally opened the forum after local Gumbaynggir woman and Bellingen High School student, Tahahni Berger, performed a Welcome to Country in language.

The Bellingen mayor shared that he's worried that people are being priced out of the housing market.

"We know there's a lack of affordable rentals in our community, that the rate of increase in the cost of renting here is among the top ten highest in the state and that our house prices are getting more expensive. We are keen to work alongside the community to figure out how we can address this issue together."

The second day of the forum facilitated attendees keen to join working groups that will continue to develop these local solutions, including CLTs, tiny homes, secondary dwellings and new models of land ownership.

Rose said that the forum's success can be measured by "the growing sense in our local community that, by working together, we have an opportunity to find solutions to the housing affordability crisis".

Audience entertained. Photo Jay Black from And the Trees

Audience entertained. Photo Jay Black from And the Trees

Fellow forum organiser, Vicki Parkes, said she's delighted with the show of support from the local community. "It's great to see the community come together and be so constructive and willing to give things a try. As one of the participants said in the wrap up session; 'if there's any town that can do this, it's us!'"

To get involved with the Bellingen Nambucca Affordable Housing Action Group email housingmatters@bnc.org.au