West End, Brisbane’s Bohemian Heartland, Becomes Battleground in Housing Shortage

Once a vibrant hub of artists and working-class residents, West End now finds itself at the forefront of a housing shortage. 

The neighbourhood, known for its rich cultural heritage, has transformed dramatically over the years, with high-end apartment complexes and luxury shopping centers dominating the landscape. But as the area undergoes urban renewal, long-time residents, small traders, and community organisations have raised concerns about displacement, rising rents, and the impact of exclusive developments.

According to data from CoreLogic, the average weekly rent for a house in West End now exceeds $900, while units demand nearly $700 per week. The local community association has criticised a plan by Council to allow mega-buildings in the flood-prone peninsula of Kurilpa, arguing that the area is already over-developed. Critics contend that such developments have pushed people to the fringes of the city, disrupting the fabric of the community.

Mama Saba Abraham, a former freedom fighter from Eritrea who runs a social enterprise training African refugee women at her West End restaurant, Mu’ooz, feels the impact of the crisis. Mama Saba’s kitchen has provided training and full-time employment for over 400 women, but the skyrocketing rent, estimated to be more than $100,000 per year, is pushing the restaurant to the brink of collapse.

With the opening of a new luxury shopping complex across the street, Mama Saba’s business struggles to retain customers and faces fierce competition from new eateries in the area.

Seleneah More, of the West End Community Association and former urban planner, highlights the challenges posed by rapid development. She notes that since 2010, West End has undergone dense development, putting pressure on infrastructure, schools, and increasing traffic congestion.

More laments the loss of affordable housing, resulting in many people being unable to afford to stay in the neighbourhood. With rent prices far exceeding the affordability threshold, even key workers such as nurses and teachers struggle to find suitable housing.

The challenges faced by Mama Saba’s restaurant and the concerns raised by the West End Community Association underscore the urgent need for a thoughtful and balanced approach to development that takes into account the affordability and sustainability of the suburb.

Published 4-July-2023