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IMG_1335Story and Photograph by Therese Trouserzoff

In Inner West Cyberia, dwell hipsters and basket weavers.

But there are also many people doing it tough, struggling with a substance abuse problem, mental illness, begging outside the small local supermarket.  And there are many people around this fair land sleeping rough with no home or place to call their own.

So it’s with some concern that we see this house, four up the road from Cambria.  This place has been empty for at least eight years.  A few years ago there was a small flurry of activity when (what appeared to be) the owners put a bit of paint on the outside and pulled out all the weeds in the front yard.

But still the place went unoccupied.  That is, it went unoccupied until some ghostly types made entry and sheltered there sans power and water for a few weeks.  I never saw an actual person moving about the property, but there was the occasional light low down casting a glow on the windows at the back of the place – visable from the back lane.

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Then the owners hunted the squatters out and put the nice shiny new padlock on the front gate.

That was at least a couple of years ago.

Apart from the fact that land and houses cost a small fortune around here (a renovated semi quite like this freestanding Victorian place sold for $1.24M two years ago) and that only a mad person would leave such a valuable asset sitting unused and racking up costs (as well as decaying to no good purpose), it strikes me as just plainly morally reprehensible to have unused housing of a modest type, vacant for years while people are forced to live on the street.

I read somewhere that it is usual for maybe 2-3% of houses and flats to be vacant at any one time, but I wonder what proportions of these places are vacant for years on end.

Our local council should triple or quadruple the rates and charge the owners of vacant but habitable properties for routine maintenance and pest control.  And remind them, as absent landlords, that they have an obligation to our society to live in the place or rent it out – or even provide free accommodation to a relative, for example.  But council should send the message loudly and clearly that if the owners aren’t prepared to maintain the house and have someone live in the place, they MUST sell it.

The other positive outcome might be that more properties come on to the market and take some of the upward price pressure off – for purchasers and renters alike.

Homelessness and residentlessness – two sides of the same coin.