Sad photos highlight big problem in Australia's 'nightmare' housing crisis

Critics say a likely plan for the site devastated by floods

A haunting collection of photos showing a derelict caravan park filled with abandoned homes has sparked a lively debate among locals, with many claiming the dilapidated site encapsulates the worst aspects of Australia’s “nightmare” housing crisis.

The images of Cedars Caravan park in Ballina, NSW — which show roughly two dozen homes sitting on plots overrun with weeds — were captured by Brisbane-based photographer Jason Ng. Mr Ng, who has been a photographer for 20 years, told Yahoo News Australia he stumbled upon the property while visiting the area with his family recently.

“We were staying down the road in a nearby motel hence how we discovered it,” he said, explaining he took the photos using a drone and his camera through the fence because it had a “do not enter” sign.

Abandoned homes at Cedars Caravan park in Ballina as Australia is in the throws of a housing crisis.
The photos of Cedars Caravan park in Ballina have sparked lively debate online. Source: Jason Ng Photography

Mr Ng said he began to take an interest in abandoned and old buildings about four years. “Once they are gone only the photos remind you of what was once there,” he said. In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the dad said he hoped the decaying lot, which sits in a prime location near the Big Prawn in the Northern NSW town, would once again thrive. Particularly given the desperate demand for housing in the region.

“This place is no longer taking guests. Lots of people probably came through here in its time,” he wrote. “It is a shame that places like this didn’t survive and it would be happening all around Australia. Maybe one day this place might be rejuvenated and something useful might come of this area again.”

The front of the abandoned property with a sign reading caravan park.
Mr Ng stumbled upon the abandoned property while visiting the area with his family. Source: Jason Ng Photography

Housing crisis: 'A shame it sits idle'

Northern NSW residents were quick to comment on the photographer's post, revealing the park had been destroyed in the floods last year and has since succumbed to the elements. “What a shame it sits idle when there’s such a big housing crisis,” one person wrote, while others argued the caravans could be repurposed for the “people crying out for somewhere to live”.

“This place was fine until mass floods went through and wiped it out only a year ago. You really have no idea of the enormous effort it would take if you saw it for yourself. Everything needs to be bulldozed and replaced. Millions the government won’t dedicate to homeless!” someone lamented.

The rusted caravans surrounded by weeds.
Northern NSW locals said the park had been destroyed in the floods last year and has since succumbed to the elements. Source: Jason Ng Photography

With one in eight people in the state now living in poverty and persistent elevated rental prices, hundreds of thousands of people are facing what newly-elected Premier Chris Minns deemed this week an “urgent crisis”. The mid-north and far-north coasts are experiencing high rates of poverty, according to preliminary analysis of 2021 Census data by researchers from the University of Canberra's National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling.

Despite the desperate need, numerous locals pointed out that it would not be safe for people to live in the condemned buildings, which are most likely filled with mould. “Yeah put the homeless in flooded rotting houses,” one person said sarcastically. “The mould and disease would be life-threatening. Should be bulldozed,” another added.

“I wasn’t going to say put the homeless in there as people generally say that. But with the house crisis at least temporarily put someone in there. But realistically they’re too far gone and expensive to fix up,” a third chimed in.

Items sit in an abandoned home and weeds overtake a clothes line.
Despite a desperate need for housing, many said it would not be safe for people to live in condemned buildings most likely filled with mould. Source: Jason Ng Photography

Local councillor angry over lack of low-income housing

The property is awaiting redevelopment, with Ballina Shire Councillors expected to soon make a decision on a $25 million “live and work community” proposed by property developer CADRE. The “mixed use” space would include 44 “live/work” units “each consisting of ground floor business premises/office premises”, according to the shire’s DA tracker.

The application, which a council spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo News Australia has been lodged and “is in the early stages of the assessment process”, also includes 10 “light industry units”, four business and office premises, a large commercial area as well as food and drinks space.

However the potential development has ruffled some feathers in Ballina, given the caravan park provided housing for low-income residents.

An illustration of the $25 million development proposed by CADRE.
Ballina Shire Councillors are expected to soon make a decision on a $25 million 'live and work community'. Source: CADRE

In January, Ballina Shire Councillor Kiri Dicker told the Daily Telegraph the Cedars Caravan park has “been one of the few places where low income individuals, people who are struggling in Ballina can afford to live”.

“It's just yet another piece of vacant land that we’re going to lose for more housing that won’t be within reach of the vast majority of residents of Ballina,” she said.

In a statement to Yahoo News, Councillor Dicker said: “There is no single solution to the housing crisis in the Northern Rivers, but one simple thing that the State Government could do immediately is enable Councils to acquire unused Crown Land for a nominal amount with the guarantee that it be used for social or affordable housing projects. The Old Depot Site in Ballina is a perfect example of unused Crown Land that could be used for this purpose. Council has repeatedly requested that it be gifted this land for development without success.”

When asked about the community’s concern regarding a lack of available affordable housing, the council spokesperson told Yahoo News there wasno comment aside from that Council is required to assess the application for the proposed use submitted on its merits.”

Yahoo News Australia has contacted CADRE for comment.

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