Wednesday, December 16, 2015

New details about Communities Plus

New details have emerged regarding the NSW Government's residential development project, Communities Plus.


Previously, the Department of Family and Community Services had announced that seven locations would be utilised, but had only disclosed the precise location of the Macquarie Park site. The Communities Plus website now includes details of the locations of the other sites: Gosford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Seven Hills, Telopea, & Tweed Heads.

Communities Plus site in Gosford, from Google Maps

The Gosford site is a 4500m2 block at 209-309 Mann Street, adjacent the Pacific Highway and close to Gosford station. Google Maps suggests it is a disused commercial property - consisting mostly of a closed down hardware store and its parking area. 

The 'Liverpool' site is actually a 1700m2 block at 4-6 Bigge Street in neighbouring Warwick Farm, close to the Hume Highway. Google Maps suggests it is currently a vacant lot. It was previously the site of single-storey one bedroom and studio apartments. 

The 'Newcastle' site is actually a 2800m2 block at the corner of Lake Road and Main Road, Glendale - part of the Lake Macquarie LGA. Google Maps suggests it too is a vacant lot.   

The Seven Hills site is a series of eight connected blocks, totalling 4400m2, at 93-95 Best Road and 1-11 Second Avenue - a short distance from Seven Hills station. Google Maps suggests the blocks at 5, 7, 9 and 11 Best Road are vacant. Single story, freestanding houses sit on each of 93 and 95 Best Road, and 1 and 3 Second Avenue. 

The Telopea site is by far the biggest of the six; a series of three connected blocks, totalling 7200m2, at 6-8 Moffats Drive and 13 Sturt Street, close to Kissing Point Road. According to Google Maps, 6 and 8 Moffats Drive both contain three-story apartment blocks; seeming to consist of 6 and 12 small apartments respectively. 13 Sturt Street contains two three-story apartment blocks, seeming to consist of 6 apartments each. 

The Tweed Heads site is a 1800m2 block at 33-35 Boyd Street, close to the Queensland border. Google Maps suggests that 33 Boyd Street is a vacant lot, and 35 Boyd Street contains a single-story house. 

Project timeline

In October and November 2015, NSW Land and Housing Corporation, in conjunction with Ernst & Young, conducted industry briefings and 'market sounding' meetings with potential construction and operations partners. 

The Communities Plus website includes a basic timeline for further progression of the project into the second quarter of 2016:

"- 27 November 2015: Ivanhoe Estate at Macquarie Park Registrations of Interest (RoI) open
- 4 December: First Six Sites under the Communities Plus program Expressions of Interest (EoI) open
- 17 December 2015: Ivanhoe RoI closes
16 Feb 2016: Other Sites EoI close
March 2016: Ivanhoe Industry Briefing & start of Procurement
March/April 2016: Other Sites Request for Proposal"

Allocation requirements

The front page of the website includes this statement from Social Housing Minister Brad Hazzard MP: "Communities Plus will be at the forefront of encouraging people in social housing to be aspirational, not generational. Many of the new social housing units will be used to trial innovative programs that link housing assistance to participation in education, training and local employment opportunities to promote independence"

The presentation that accompanied the industry briefings also includes the following quotes:

"What's Different About Communities Plus...
- Social housing tenants benefit from engagement, learning and employment
- Tenancy management that links supports to tenants who can benefit
- Return on investment includes social and economic outcomes"

"What Will This Mean For Social Housing Tenants?
- Targeted allocations
- Tenancy management with additional support
- Social housing, a platform for independence"

This represents a novel approach. Current FACS Housing policy provides that allocation of public housing is not dependent on tenant participation in education, training, employment, or other support initiatives. 

Our concerns

These projects will involve the demolition of dwellings that are currently tenanted, and many households will need to be relocated. FACS claims its staff are experienced in assisting tenants through these types of process, having learnt much from earlier renewal projects. But testimonial from places such as Millers Point, Claymore and Bonnyrigg give a different perspective - such as this article in today's "Sydney Central" local paperIndependent research into the impact of relocation - and what specifically helped long-term tenants adjust to new homes, neighbourhoods and communities - should be commissioned and considered before proceeding with any projects involving the renewal or disposal of currently tenanted stock.

And the idea that a social housing tenancy is at odds with 'independence' is starting to pervade the policy landscape - and social housing tenancies are becoming further enmeshed in our welfare systems alongside concepts like "mutual obligation". But expecting tenants who are eligible for social housing to promptly resolve their need for assistance and exit into an expensive and insecure private rental market is both cruel and unrealistic.

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