A change is in the West End

If you have lived in West End for a significant amount of time you may have noticed the area around you has been changing.  The increase of population, rental and property prices has the suburb once known for it’s bohemian atmosphere transforming into Brisbane’s latest gentrified hub, forcing lower income earners out. 

Story by Liana Walker

West End is a suburb commonly described as artsy, bohemian and culturally diverse. Only a few kilometres outside of the city, all these unique features combined with the location is attracting property developers and employed professionals to the area. As a result, low income earners are being pushed out.

Councillor for The Gabba ward, Jonathan Sri said the increase in the upper market is diminishing the supply for low cost housing in the area. 

“That’s meant that a lot of lower income residents have been priced out of the suburb,” he said. 

 “We’re seeing in musicians and artists in particular being priced out and also single parents, young mums and young dads with kids are finding it harder to find a place to rent in the area.

“Any home that’s big enough to hold a family is being purchased by wealthier newcomer residents, so it means some of longer term families who have been renting in the area are long time are being priced out.” 

Currently, the median house price in West End is over $1 million. It’s a price that has steadily been rising over the past few years and is causing the environment to change. 

Cr Sri said the high price has caused an influx of higher income residents to move into the suburb. 

“Sometimes that can change the expectations on how the suburb should operate,” he said.

“So for example, we’re seeing more noise complaints about live music venues, and performing arts spaces.

“Some of which have been in West End for a long time.

“But it sometimes seems that some of the new residents, and not all of them, but some of the new residents tend to make noise complaints about things that are part of the West End community really.”

He said the change is causing tension between different members of the suburb.

“There’s increase in conflict and animosity towards lower income and vulnerable people who use public spaces,” he said. 

“So West End for a long time has been a very excepting and welcoming place for people who have mental illnesses, people who might be vulnerable or homeless or sleeping rough, and a lot of these people frequent the public realm, particularly around the riverside parks and also along Boundary street.

 “But as the area gentrifies and as more upmarket business move in and as more well healed residents move in, we start to see a contest in how the public realm is used and designed and governed.”

What exactly is gentrification? 

Doctor Elizabeth Taylor is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT. 

She said gentrification is defined by not just change in the housing market, but the type of people living in an area. 

“It’s a consequential process usually where professionally educated or professionally employed people move into an area that previous had a different kind of socio-economic characteristic,” she said. 

“Eventually you have a change in not only the retailing make up but also the housing market and the sort of people who live in an area.”

She said the impacts on the rental market are the most extreme.

“There’s fewer rentals available at the lower end and you get more and more competition for rental,” she said. 

“That tends to mean landlords favour certain kinds of people, so it’s harder and harder for people who have been renting in an area for a long time to stay there. 

“They might even lose their existing rental and they get pushed out to other areas.”

Not all doom and gloom

Dr Taylor said gentrified suburbs have much larger opportunities for capital gains.

“If you went back to Brunswick for example in the late 80s and the early 90s, you could get a house there that was in the low quartile of prices in Melbourne and then now days you wouldn’t be able to find anything under $800,000,” she said. 

“That’s not just not only have house prices gone up overall in Australia cities like Melbourne and Brisbane, but the difference between those gentrified suburbs and other areas is just so much steeper and it plays out in terms of access to services as well.

“So on the plus side if you were an early gentrifier and you bought in these suburbs you have access to huge amounts of capital gain that you could use to stay in the housing market.”

Felt amongst the locals

Emily Stewart is a student who has been living in West End for the past five years. 

She said she has felt the impact of the housing market price increase. 

“We had our rent increase after we had an evaluation of our house,” she said. 

“So I guess that came back saying our house was worth more, not because the house was any better, but because the area is more popular and trendy.”

She said the amount she pays in rent is not reasonable considering the size of her house. 

 “You move one suburb out like say Annerley or Hillgate hill it’s significantly cheaper or you can so much better property for that price. 

“And we’ve had two rent increases in the past two years.”

Miss Stewart said she is already considering moving to other suburbs further out because of the price increase. 

“We’re all students, we’re all creative people as well,” she said. 

“So I guess that’s just case and point about that whole atmosphere and the type of people who live in the area, are the people who aren’t making that much money so we are being forced out. 

“And so that kind of spectacle of poor people I guess is being forced out, and probably won’t be staying in West End longer myself.”

Council’s feeling the impacts 

Cr Sri said has become more expensive for governments to acquire land for much needed infrastructure. 

“We need far more public green space in West End right now,” he said. 

 “There’s a real shortage of public parks and particularly sports fields, but because land values are so high it’s now prohibitory too expensive for the council to buy land to use for sports fields and parks,”

He said it has become hard for council to buy land for basic services such as community centres, public toilets, and expansion of the library 

“All these basic services residents need for a high quality of life become harder to provide as land values rise,” he said. 

“So the property boom ends up cannibalising itself where more and more people move into an area and that makes it more expensive to provide the necessary infrastructure.”

But Cr Sri said residents should not put up with land lords increasing rent prices. 

“I think every renter, when a landlord tells a renter the price is going to go up the first thing you should do is write back and say ‘no I don’t want it to go up I don’t think that increase is justified’ and force landlords to explain why its appropriate to increase the rent,” he said. 

“If renters consistently and continually push back against rent increases that does force landlords to reconsider their position a little bit.

“Because landlords will take as much money as they can get away with, but if tenants say ‘look I can’t afford that, I’m gonna think of moving out’ some landlords will say ‘I’d rather have a low paying tenant than no tenant at all’ and keep their rent down.”


(Image: Boundary Street West End, source: wikipedia creative commons)