Site of proposed 'donga' village in Evans Head.
Site of proposed 'donga' village in Evans Head.

RENT CRISIS: Highway workers force families out of homes

FAMILIES have been asked to move out of their long term rentals in Evans Head to make way for the growing number of workers on the Pacific Highway bypass.

On top of that rents have increased and businesses can't find staff due to the shortage of accommodation in the small coastal village.

"We have staffing issues where we can't employ (people) as they can't get accommodation," Evans Head Bowling Club manager Roger Hong said.

"People are getting kicked out (of their homes) because landlords can get better rent from the workers.

"We've also lost some wedding events as there is no accommodation for the guests."

With the lack of affordable homes for young families, the ripple effect has been far reaching with one teacher concerned that the number of students at local schools will reduce.

"Local families and individuals alike are being forced out of the rental market and these families are being forced out of town and eventually out of our school." he said.

Rental crisis

Single mum of two, Josie Harvey is in the predicament of having to look for a new place to live after their rental home was sold.

"I'm finding a lot of places are super expensive," she said.

"There is a property around the corner that is three bedroom and it is $600 per week which is more than I can afford.

"When we moved to the area four years ago the first place we rented had four bedrooms and a massive yard but was only $360 per week."

Ms Harvey said the issue was very widespread as whenever she has looked for rentals, there is usually 4-5 families looking at the same time.

"We don't have family in Evans Head, so if I don't find anything before I have to move out, we will move in with friends."

Evans Head was once known as a lovely area to retire but for Warren and Christine Haines of Beaudesert, that may be just a pipe dream.

"We are pensioners and are looking for something nice in Evans Head as my wife loves living near the water," Mr Haines said.

"A nice little unit would be lovely. We were down there at Christmas but couldn't find anything.

"We aren't in a hurry, so maybe by Winter something will come up."

Where are the dongas?

When the plans for the Pacific Highway bypass first came into being, two development applications were put forward to build donga villages for the excess number of workers coming into the town.

One was to be built at Evans Head by Outback Camps and another at Woodburn with the Evans Head Bowling Club.

Richmond Valley general manager Vaughan Macdonald said the development applications for both donga villages are approved and ready to go.

"From a business perspective (the companies building the villages) haven't got a guarantee of 'heads on beds'," he said.

"It's really up to (the developers) to move forward (but) they haven't as they have been unable to lock in a contract with contractors on the motorway for guarantee of usage."

Mr Hong and Outback Camps' John Abarnis have confirmed the lack of guarantee.

"There's no requirement from the principal contractor or major subcontractors for accommodation," Mr Abaris said.

"They claim there is plenty of rental accommodation available for their workers.

"We are ready to go but until we get some sort of commitment, we are basically on hold."

Mr Abaris said it would only take them 12 weeks to build the donga villages.

Evans Head Business & Community Chamber president as well as LJ Hooker real estate agent Brian O'Farrell said it was a fine line between renting out accommodation to the workers as well as the tourists.

"We have to keep looking after our tourists as well as if we give all the tourist accommodation to the workers, we will lose our tourists," he said.

Mr O'Farrell also confirmed the incidences of families being kicked out of their long term rentals in preference for workers.

"That has happened unfortunately on a few occasions," he said.

Mr O'Farrell also confirmed LJ Hooker currently had zero permanent rentals available on their books.

"If we can get these dongas built and move the workers in there it will relieve the pressure," he said.

He said the chamber has flagged the rental crisis with council.



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