“The real housing crisis is in the lack of affordable rental housing, not in how expensive it is to actually buy a home,” says Michele Adair, CEO of Housing Trust, one of New South Wales’ largest community housing providers and chair of peak body Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA) NSW.
Australia is in the middle of a serious housing crisis, with problems such as housing insecurity and homelessness demanding real solutions, and fast. Mixed tenure developments are the way forward, says Adair, citing the example of the upcoming Northsea development in the coastal city of Wollongong. Northsea will have a mix of private residences and community housing, making room for affordable and social housing within a premium architecturally designed residential development.
The current massive shortfall in affordable rental housing can be met only if one in five of all new dwellings is dedicated for affordable rental. Integrated housing also serves another purpose – that of creating rich, diverse and inclusive communities.
At the Northsea development, 10 apartments are dedicated for social housing while six apartments will be available for affordable housing. Social housing tenants, many of whom work at casual jobs, have their rent fixed at only 25% of their income. For affordable housing tenants, rents start at 75% of the market with the amount not exceeding 30% of their household income.
Would renters at Northsea have the assurance that the rent will be locked in for the long term? Legislation would ensure that, says Adair, adding that “...when we provide a home, we provide a home to people for life while they continue to be eligible, if there are government rules around income eligibility, and, of course, while the tenants continue to do the right thing, look after their property and pay their rent on time”.
To be able to tap into the supply under construction or lying vacant, the government should extend subsidies and support, incentivising developers to commit to affordable housing. Adair believes that at least 20% of new buildings should be dedicated to affordable housing. However, even Landcom, NSW Government’s land and property development arm, only commits to delivering 5% affordable rental or social housing in their projects.
Be it Landcom’s redevelopment of the old Bulli hospital site or the Cokeworks development in Corrimal, Wollongong, affordable housing is limited to 5%, which is simply not good enough, says Adair. To get to 20%, governments need to care about renters the same way that they have always cared about first home buyers.
“And we get there by holding them accountable to doing something about it. It makes no difference to a builder whether they're building a home that's going to be rented for affordable rent or whether it's going to be sold for an enormous profit.”
Elaborating on the advantages of partnering with not-for-profit community housing providers such as Housing Trust, Adair explains that they have tax benefits and concessions not available to government or private enterprises, and a proven track record of regulatory compliance.
Though there are 12-15 sites that Housing Trust currently manages for the NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LHC) that would be better knocked down and redeveloped for increased yield, policy reforms are required for this to happen. CHIA will continue to lobby for fair, reasonable and sustainable reforms within LHC's own policy agenda to solve this problem.
This article is a synopsis of Talking Architecture & Design Episode 104 where Housing Trust CEO and CHIA chair Michele Adair explains why Australia needs more projects such as the Northsea development in Wollongong to address the gap in affordable housing.
Hear more about this project on our recent podcast with Michele Adair here