Once populated by thespians and proletariats, Brisbane’s West End is now dwarfed by high-end apartment complexes, and a luxury shopping centre draws a new kind of crowd.
Rent for a house will set you back more than $900 a week, and it is nearly $700 for a unit, according to CoreLogic data.
The local community association says urban renewal has displaced people to the city’s fringes.
It has criticised a plan by Brisbane City Council to allow mega-buildings in Kurilpa in the city’s south, arguing the flood-prone peninsula is already over-developed.
Small traders say exclusive developments and constant construction is making it harder for them to survive.
But an urban planning commentator believes the area is ripe for intensified development.
Front line of gentrification
A luxury shopping complex across from Mama Saba Abraham’s restaurant Mu’ooz is a daily reminder of how much the suburb has changed in the seven years since she moved in.
Before she came to Australia as a refugee, Mama Saba was a freedom fighter in Eritrea, and her work helping other refugees has been recognised by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who invited her to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral last year.
Her not-for-profit kitchen has trained more than 400 African refugee women but is on the brink of collapse, unable to meet its rent – which she said is more than $100,000 a year.
While the complex was under construction, access to the row of shops was limited and two neighbouring businesses shut down.
“Worst-case scenario is maybe we close, but we don’t want to close,” Mama Saba said.
“We create full-time jobs and they are not depending on welfare because of the opportunities.”
There are other factors at play, too.
Mama Saba said it has become difficult to get specialist staff, and then there is the cost-of-living crisis.
But she also feels the culture of West End has changed, and she’s losing customers because of it.
“When we started there was a lot of West Enders, coming from different backgrounds. This time, you don’t see that,” she said.
The kitchen is feverishly overhauling its menu, marketing and services to try to attract diners, but with new eateries across road, it faces an uphill battle.
Displaced by development
A Brisbane City Council plan to rapidly add 10,000 dwellings to housing stock by raising height limits in South Brisbane is currently before Queensland’s planning minister.
President of the West End Community Association Seleneah More said the suburb had undergone dense development since 2010, which has put pressure on infrastructure.
“Schools are just really bursting at the seams. The other one is road congestion, where people are just seeing phenomenal amounts of traffic,” she said.
“We unfortunately have experienced development with displacement.
“A lot of people that were able to contribute to that sense of community and that sense of creativity, have just simply been unable to afford to stay in the neighbourhood.”
Ms More said the suburb was on the front line of the housing crisis.
She sees the merit in accelerated housing construction, but doubts how affordable those properties will be.
CoreLogic data from May shows the average weekly rent for units in West End $687, and more than $900 for a house.
“The planning regulation says that their definition of affordable housing is 30 per cent of income of low-to-moderate earners,” Ms More, who has a background in urban planning, said.
“We’re in a neighbourhood where key workers like nurses and teachers are struggling to find affordable housing, so there is no way a minimum wage-earner can access product at that rate.”
She said urban renewal had changed the tone of the suburb.
“[It had] a lot of industrial factories that did attract cheap migrant labour, and then creative spaces were cheaper, so there were artists and a big student population for a long time,” she said.
“As is the history with lots of cities, what was once considered undesirable then became desirable.”
Housing stock needed
Urban economics commentator Greg Hallam believes the Kurilpa area is ripe for intensive affordable housing development.
Mr Hallan, who has 45 years of experience working with councils and the Local Government Association of Queensland, said affordable housing should be built near existing infrastructure.
“The services already exist, state and federal governments have spent billions putting in new railway stations, new high schools, it’s right on the fringe of the city — it’s the place they need to go,” he said.
“Going out to the fringes, you’re increasing people’s cost of living exponentially.
“The fact it’s so close to the city means people don’t have to own a car.”
He said accelerated planning, where a Temporary Local Planning Instrument (TLPI) is used, was the right approach, given the urgent need for housing.
“This is a one-off big injection of new stock, which is what we need,” Mr Hallam said.
“People might remember what happened in Grantham, after the floods about 12 years ago. A TLPI was used in that instance, and that meant people were in new homes within 12 months.”
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