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Controversy swamps The Block amid housing crisis

Less than a year after Nine’s reality TV home renovation show The Block wrapped in regional Victoria, the cast and crew are back on the streets making waves in a Melbourne bayside suburb.

Five “renovator’s delight” houses in Charming Street, Hampton East – snapped up for $14.3 million as reported by realestate.com.au in September – has neighbours, community housing advocates and a surprise critic unimpressed with the 19th season of the show.

A national housing affordability crisis, with rising interest rates and excessive rental prices affecting tens of thousands of families, raises serious questions about the show.

“TV shows like The Block reinforce what’s wrong with Australia’s housing system,” Maiy Azize from Everybody’s Home, a coalition of housing, homelessness and welfare organisations set up in 2018, told The New Daily.

“The reason we have shows like The Block is because Australia’s housing system is about making money from investments, not building homes.

“Investors can buy up homes, renovate them, sell them with generous tax discounts, and make huge profits at the end of it all. The Block is doing it for entertainment, but many others are doing it for profit – and they’re being backed in by government policies and tax handouts.”

‘It’s a joke’

Grand Designs Australia host Peter Maddison was similarly scathing.

“I hate The Block, it’s absolute bloody nonsense,” Maddison told The Binge Guide.

Maddison, the Melbourne-born founding director of Maddison Architects (which has been operating since 1989), described the show as a “joke”.

“It should be banned from television because it leaves people with the false aspirations that they can become – in inverted commas – a project manager or a builder or a designer. It’s a joke.

“It’s a very bad example of the reality of building, the responsibilities around that and the difficulty of it all.

“They make it look very easy,” he said.

Comparing the reality show to his Grand Designs, which is filmed over several months (sometimes years), he says: “I have welded myself to a show that has integrity, where we show the real trials and tribulations [of building].”

Ms Azize said what The Block doesn’t show its audience is the people who lose out in this system.

“There are thousands of people sleeping rough on the streets, people who are couch-surfing with friends because they can’t find anywhere to live, and families living in cars and tents because they can’t afford a home.

“Australia needs more affordable homes, not more lavish, expensive properties built for those who are well off,” she said.

Oh dear, the letter to neighbours

On March 20, in a letter to existing Charming Street residents in Hampton East, Nine has advised they’d be filming a 1950s commercial and needed all modern cars to be removed from the area.

“As we are dressing the street, we do request on Friday evening that you please not park on the street or in your driveways,” it read.

Specifically, they asked that house No.24 keep their cars off-site, and house No.25 relocate their cars or put them in the garage at specific times throughout Saturday.

What if there was a children’s party with an inflatable castle out front? A Saturday school sports lunch barbecue?

“Sorry, but if a company like Nine wants me to do something for them (especially if it’s to the benefit of some s–t reality show) they can pay me,” wrote one person.

And this: “I reckon Australia’s obsession with real estate profits is pure poison and I’d be delighted to seize the opportunity to annoy the producers of The Block … sure, it’s not exactly storming the Winter Palace, but it’d be both easy and fun.”

One resident set up a Facebook paged dedicated to tracking The Block‘s every move, sharing that his house is “smack-bang” in the middle of the build.

In daily posts, he has revealed crews have asked if they can fly a drone over his house for the next three months, observed roof tiles removed to make way for second storeys and seen hoardings going up to shield the builds from curious onlookers.

On the upside, he said the Nine crews have been co-operative and they’re enjoying the “hoo-ha … it can be entertaining”.

Co-hosts Scott Cam, Shelly Craft and foreman Keith Schleiger (and the three judges Shaynna Blaze, Neale Whitaker and Darren Palmer) were all on set for filming the commercial over the weekend.

Wearing 1950s clothing – last year’s gimmick was Cam riding a horse and cracking a whip with his red dog across an empty paddock – crews filmed across houses numbering 14 to 22.

Buyer’s advocate Frank Valentic, who has represented buyers on The Block, told The Age the production company paid more than the median house price for the suburb, which was $1,462,500 in the June quarter, Domain data showed.

It was even higher than the median house price in Hampton of $2,325,000.

“It’s a monumental challenge, so you would always have to pay a premium,” he said.

Daily Mail Australia drone photos republished by theblockinatorblog.

An easier build?

Meanwhile, buyers agent and The Block regular Nicole Jacobs told realestate.com.au that choosing suburban Charming Street will make this season of the show easier.

“It’s bringing it back to a neighbourhood format, and it’s going to be a lot easier than Gisborne,” Ms Jacobs said.

“While Hampton East is the poor cousin of Hampton, it’s starting to really take off.

“Charming St is a great street, I think it will be more manageable and achievable for buyers to think about buying in that pocket and it will pick up that whole area.”

The tree-change fail

Last year, The Block ambitiously opted for a tree change, buying up several 4.2 hectare blocks in South Gisborne (about 45km north-west of Melbourne).

Disaster struck early with heavy rain turning the blocks into mud pits.

Then there were limited building supplies and tradesmen post-pandemic, which was coupled with often insurmountable building design features, leading to regular on-camera meltdowns by contestants.

Each plot – which included the skeletons of relocated weatherboard houses – had to deliver luxury add-ons including in-ground pools, massive sheds, pony paddocks, chook pens, long driveways and green energy design requirements in 12 weeks.

When it came time to auction off the properties – all with a hefty reserve above $4m – it proved to be a disaster.

Favourites Tom and Sarah-Jane made a profit of $20,000, as winners Omar and Oz were the only contestants who took home a profit of $1.6 million.

Eccentric multi-millionaire and serial Block buyer Danny Wallis bought all three homes that sold on auction day.

Two are currently being advertised for rent at an astonishing $2800 a week.

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