The real estate saying goes: “Buy the worst house in the best street." But in Housos, there is no best street — the whole (fictional) suburb of Sunnyvale is a trashed nightmare of fibro walls, overgrown lawns, bikies running riot and scooter-bound pensioners hooning down the footpaths. Or at least it was when Housos first aired in 2011. Today, even housing commission suburbs are moving up in the world.
The actual real-life location of Sunnyvale is a closely guarded secret. But it’s difficult to keep a secret when you’re broadcasting it on national television. Let’s just say that if you wanted to look for Housos locations, the Sydney suburb of Smithfield, located around 30 kilometres west of the CBD, would be a pretty good place to start. And how have housing prices in Smithfield fared since Housos aired? Here’s a graph from homesales.com.au:
According to YourInvestmentPropertyMag.com, since 2013, median housing prices in Sunnyvale — uh, Smithfield — have risen from $429,000 to $777,000. Give it a couple more years and you’ll have to be a millionaire to move next door to Shazza and Dazza. Even if you want to rent, you’re looking at an average payment of $460 a week whether it’s a unit or a house. Considering the maximum fortnightly Centerlink payment is $590.40 — with their skills at rorting the system, it’s safe to assume the Housos characters are definitely pulling down the maximum — that doesn’t leave a lot over for beer and durries, even if you’re sharing with a bunch of mates.
Obviously Housos isn’t meant to be reality television — despite what the crack reporting team at A Current Affair initially thought — but the idea that a western suburb 25-30 kilometres from the CBD would be an affordable place to live for people on the dole wasn’t meant to be part of the fantasy. And yet, since the series first aired, the price of houses in the suburb where it’s set have all but doubled. In less than a decade, it’s gone from a concept so plausible a national news program thought it was a reality show to an outright fantasy.
And it’s not just that the location is no longer a plausible setting — seriously, how bizarre is it that Housos is now set in a location where houses will soon have a million-dollar price-tag? — the world Housos is set in will vanish along with it. The humour in Housos might be blunt at times, but it’s built on the idea of a community. The characters all know each other because they’ve lived their lives in the same area. Anyone who’s spent any time at all in any of Australia’s poorer suburbs will recognise the way everyone seems to know the colourful local identities and shady types.
And while we’re here, that’s why Housos’ reputation for mocking its characters is off-base. Sure, they’re a collection of broad comedy stereotypes, but the idea isn’t that the viewer sees themselves in the characters on the show, it’s that they see their community on the show. These idiots are making fun of the kind of idiots you see on your local streets. They’re funny because you know people like them, not because you’re like them.
But when prices skyrocket in a suburb, the community is destroyed. Those renting find themselves priced out of their home and their neighbourhood, while the housing commission residents soon find themselves in the minority. The new residents want different things from the area and soon the shops start to change, too. We don’t hear many complaints about gentrification anymore because it’s just how things are now in Australia. If your suburb isn’t too expensive now, it’s only a matter of time.
Housos was based on the kind of rough and ready community a lot of Australians knew. Now, it’s rapidly becoming a historical document, looking at a close-knit way of life that’s disappearing on the fringes of our cities where neighbours are strangers and the local shops are a 15-minute drive away. In 2011, Housos showed a suburb most of us wouldn’t want to live in; in 2018, it’s one many of us can’t afford to live in.
Watch Housos Tuesday nights at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND. You can also watch episodes anytime at SBS On Demand: