The new key workers? City rents tear apart young creatives of Bellevue Hill ‘farm’

The parquetry floor had survived, and the chandeliers still dangled from the ceilings. But the otherwise ramshackle share house in Bellevue Hill had a different kind of splendour for the 15 or so residents who called it home on and off for the past five years.
Nanjing Night Net

”We always had heaps of animals around, we were growing things, gardening and painting and playing music,” Caroline Sundt-Wels, a former resident, says. ”It was beautiful.”

With several bedrooms, including a converted hut in the overgrown yard, rent of $500 a week worked out cheap for the flatmates in the female-dominated home its tenants affectionately called ”Tit Farm”.

Sundt-Wels, 28, a fashion designer, musician and freelance art director, was one of the several young painters, designers, musicians and photographers who found a kind of affordable haven in the old house from 2008 until its owners began a long-planned rebuild this week.

Now, the women have scattered and ”they’re all paying nearly triple the rent they were”, Sundt-Wels says. She has found a sub-let, but it will only last three months. For most, creative work has again been pushed aside for paying jobs.

It’s a problem faced by aspiring young creative people across the city: how to afford to pursue an artistic career in Sydney, rated this year by The Economist as the world’s third-most expensive city after Tokyo and Osaka?

The City of Sydney is proposing one answer. The council is pushing to have artists included in the definition of ”key workers” – a category traditionally limited to low-income public sector workers who provide essential city services such as police, nurses, teachers and paramedics. The change would make artists eligible to apply for the limited supply of affordable housing set aside for key workers.

”There’s all kinds of workers that a city needs, and not all of them will earn $100,000 a year but they are still crucial to city infrastructure and city liveability,” Rachel Healy, who runs the council’s cultural policy, says. Even established artists often earn well below the average wage, and ”there’s a strong view that artists should be recognised as key workers”.

While all young people are hit by the high cost of housing in Sydney, there are strong economic and cultural arguments to help early-career creative artists to stay in the city, Healy says.

The creative industries contribute $8.2 billion to the city economy, and the sector is growing faster than all other industries, according to a recent state government draft report.

Creative people contribute much to the liveability of a city, and that cultural overlay helps attract mobile, educated graduates from all industries, Healy says. If creatives are priced out of the city, ”the overall experience of Sydney is profoundly compromised,” she says. ”It’s a very different kind of problem than, ‘Oh well, it’s just a bit sad that it’s only the lawyers and accountants live here’.”

The idea has the backing of Homelessness NSW. CEO Gary Moore said ”young artists … should be part of the mix of low-wage key employees that are targeted for possible affordable housing schemes”.

There are small council-led initiatives, such as the provision of subsidised living-work spaces on council property for artists in East Sydney planned for later this year, and Marrickville’s recent rezoning of industrial warehouses in St Peters to allow artists to live and work there.

But the City is also considering a proposal received from a young artist to establish housing co-operatives for early-career artists, like student housing co-operatives run by universities. The City’s finalised Cultural Policy will be released in the next few months.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.