Friday, February 26, 2016

Social and Affordable Housing Fund - update

Some developments relating to the NSW Government's $1 billion Social and Affordable Housing Fund have occurred since an industry briefing was conducted in December 2015. 

Premier Mike Baird discussing the Social and Affordable Housing Fund

Regional allocation

Most notable is that the SAHF Project Team has provided information confirming that phase one of the initiative will aim to deliver approximately 30% of the 3000 dwellings to be provided in regional NSW. The Project Team defines 'regional areas' as all local government areas outside of Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Gosford, and Wyong. At the industry briefing, NSW Treasury Project Director Richard Mills had said the Government did not have a preference for proposals from metropolitan or regional areas. 

This allocation appears to be largely consistent with both tenant demand and the current dispersion of Social Housing stock in NSW. Though figures vary according to sub-region, waiting times for Social Housing are most often higher in Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast, and Wollongong than in other areas of NSW. Indeed most property types in most areas of Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast, and Wollongong have waiting times of 5-10 years or more. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of current Social Housing dwellings are situated in or near major metropolitan regions. Centre for Affordable Housing data provides that, in 2011, 93,945 of 114,602 Social Housing dwellings in NSW (i.e. 82%) were situated in the statistical districts of Sydney, Hunter, and Illawarra. The Sydney statistical district includes the Central Coast.

North Coast Community Housing Company CEO John McKenna has told The Daily Examiner that the SAHF's requirement that at least 200 social housing dwellings be delivered in any one proposal is prohibitive for providers operating in regional areas. He raised the prospect of his organisation forming a consortium with other Community Housing providers in order to submit a proposal satisfying the criterion. He also noted, "Unlike metropolitan areas, we wouldn't be able to build a 100-unit tower, so our proposal would have to be based around low density or medium-density opportunities".

Launch and Future Directions

On January 30, the Social and Affordable Housing Fund was 'officially launched' by Premier Mike Baird, Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian, and Minister for Social Housing Brad Hazzard. Project partners NCOSS and Infrastructure Partnerships Australia also participated. However, it appears that the launch will not impact upon the administration of the project in any substantive way. Both the media release and the associated reporting neither built on nor contradicted anything provided in the industry briefing or elsewhere. 

Similarly, the fund is noted as forming part of the NSW Government's Social Housing strategy for the next decade in the recently released Future Directions paper (analysis of that document here). However, it is only mentioned in passing, and the paper provides no new information on the project. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Affordable Housing projects in inner Sydney

Community Housing provider City West Housing has recently announced numerous developments in its portfolio of Affordable Housing. 

Ultimo sales and relocations

City West Housing is in the final stages of selling off eight nineteenth century houses in the inner Sydney suburb of Ultimo. The terrace properties have been used as Affordable Housing since their acquisition by City West in 1994. Records available on provide that the package consists of six three-bedroom properties, one two-bedroom property, and one four-bedroom property. They are situated adjacent the TAFE Sydney Campus.

Above: seven of the eight terraces for sale

Five of the properties were sold in October and November 2015, and a further two were sold on 18 February 2016. According to a report in the Inner West Courier from February 2016, the final property will be sold in March 2016. 

Records published by real estate agency Cobden & Hayson indicate that the combined sales price of the seven properties sold to date is $12,010,000. The eighth property has a current estimated value of $1,600,000.

City West Housing has provided information regarding the relocation process for the eight affected households. Depending on the circumstances of the occupants, households were either relocated to other properties within the City West portfolio, or transitioned to alternative housing. City West paid the relocation costs of all households eligible to transition within their Affordable Housing portfolio.* 

Wigram Road Glebe development

City West Housing's 2015 annual report states that the provider is "in the process" of acquiring land adjacent the Mirvac Harold Park development on Wigram Road, Glebe. It provides further, "Our early design concepts indicate that we will deliver 76 units [here]. CWH will commence design and planning this year with construction estimated to commence in the latter half of 2016". Although information is not available on the mix of Affordable, Social, and private market housing to be delivered through this development, City West's current portfolio consists of 547 rental properties, of which 510 are provided as Affordable Housing. And recent City West construction projects have delivered Affordable Housing exclusively. 

Above: the site of the Mirvac Harold Park development

The Inner West Courier report from February 2016 concerning the Ultimo sales cites Chief Executive Janelle Goulding as stating that "City West Housing had committed" the money from the sale of the Ultimo terraces to funding the Harold Park development. 

Cowper Street Glebe development

City West Housing's 2015 annual report also confirms that the provider will be involved in the redevelopment of the NSW Land and Housing Corporation-owned site at Cowper Street, Glebe (previously discussed on this blog). The report states, "The Minister for Family and Community Services and The Treasurer have now approved the vesting of land to CWH. The site at Cowper Street will accommodate 95 affordable units"

Our response

Inner Sydney is suffering from an acute shortage of affordable rental housing. The Centre for Affordable Housing's area snapshot provides that the City of Sydney LGA is a renting hotbed. Approximately 77,000 rental households live within the city's boundaries. Around 40% are classed as 'low income'. But just 6.3% of rental housing stock in the LGA is affordable for low income households. That figure is just 2.1% for very low income households. 

City West Housing's intent to deliver new Affordable Housing units through the Wigram Road development is therefore welcome in and of itself. But given the project appears to be funded largely or wholly by the sale of the Ultimo terraces, it is appropriate to look at what has been lost - as well as the particulars of what is to be gained. 

The Ultimo homes include six three-bedroom properties and one containing four bedrooms. Comments made by City West to the Inner West Courier suggest that the Wigram Road complex will consist overwhelmingly or even exclusively of one and two bedroom units; "...the reality is the demand in that area is for twos and ones"; "[Wigram Road] will allow us to house about 100 people"

City West Housing is therefore trading a small number of large homes, capable of housing about 30 people, for a larger number of small ones. In doing so, it posits that demand for larger affordable residences in the inner city is lacking. But it is not entirely clear that this is the case. Though the Centre for Affordable Housing snapshot does note that "Lone person and couple only households comprise a significant proportion of all households" across the region, it also states that the area "has a diversity of housing demand, supply, needs and trends." Indeed, census data indicates that the area is home to 15,000 households of three or more persons living on or below the median income. And wait times for three and four bedroom properties managed by Social Housing landlords is consistently at 10 years or more throughout the inner city.

Of course, selling for the sake of building also requires the relocation of tenants. This process can be stressful and even traumatic if not handled with great sensitivity. 

Finally, it is worth considering the composition of larger households. Many are likely occupied by families with children. Without access to suitable, affordable housing, low and middle-income families will have no choice but to leave the area - thereby narrowing the social mix of the community as a whole. 

So whilst additions to Sydney's affordable rental stock are welcome, it is discouraging to see it delivered at the expense of diversity in Affordable Housing. Such a trade off is likely to see the needs of larger households - and ultimately the public at large - sold short.

* We welcome feedback from tenants affected by sales of Affordable and Social Housing on their relocation. This may be provided to contact [at] Your anonymity will be respected.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Let's walk the talk in Waterloo

Cross posted from The Brown Couch

Today's entry on The Brown Couch is by Julie Foreman, Executive Officer at the Tenants' Union of NSW. 

Last Thursday (February 11), I attended a public meeting on the redevelopment of the Waterloo public housing estates hosted by Jenny Leong MP, one of two Members of Parliament representing the suburb. Over one hundred local tenants attended. Also in attendance was the Social Housing Minister, Brad Hazzard MP, shadow Social Housing Minister Tania Mihailuk MP, and FACS Deputy Secretary Southern Cluster, Paul Vevers. I was heartened by the level of interest and attendance by all stakeholders.

Can the Government balance competing interests and walk the talk in Waterloo?

Tenants expressed anxiety and confusion about the announcement. The following snippets capture the questions and concerns raised:
“Is my home being demolished?”
When will I be moving?”
“Where will I be moving to?”
“Will I get a like-for-like house when I move?”
"Why do I have to lose my home, my community, my security?"
“I feel like my life will be on hold for the next 5 years."
“How are you going to deal with all the extra parking needed?”
“I am afraid of moving away from my health supports and friends”
“Will you cover my moving costs?”
“Why didn’t you take the last 10 years of consultations into account?”
“You just sprung it on us before Christmas with a flyer under my door!”
The Minister suggested to participants that meetings such as these just scare and raise anxiety. I believe they reflect honest and real concerns.
Unfortunately, the issues raised do not surprise me – they are what I have heard at every gathering (large, small or one on one) of social housing tenants facing or experiencing redevelopment. I heard it in RiverwoodBonnyriggMintoClaymore, and Ivanhoe. This is not to deny that there are also some tenants who want to move, in the hope of changing their overall circumstances.
What did surprise me was that FACS Housing and the Minister had not anticipated this response, and adjusted their usual announcement process accordingly. The public housing agency has been through this a number of times, and assures us over and over that they have learnt from their mistakes. 
The Minister did assure us at the meeting that he would make sure those affected in Waterloo would be treated sensitively, and be consulted at every step along the way. I am not yet cynical enough to believe that he was just ‘talking the talk’ and not prepared to ‘walk the walk’. That is because Minister Hazzard and Mr Vevers did make some commitments. He agreed that additional supports for tenants would be needed during this period. He agreed that with a local, annual turnover rate of between 8-9% of public housing tenants, those affected by redevelopment works could be rehoused within the area as works progressed. He indicated that he would personally hold regular, local consultations. And he said there would be no rush to relocate tenants. He even committed to answering questions raised at the meeting at a consultation he is to host this week.
So here at the TU we have put together a list to help all of us - tenants, FACS Housing, Minister Hazard, and community organisations - ‘walk the talk’, and thus increase the prospect of sensitive, appropriate and effective redevelopment. Collective learning from research commissioned by FACS Housing, built on consultations over a number of years with tenant groups and the non-government sector, informs the list:
- Acknowledge the strengths and history of the existing community;
- Progressively move people within the estate as new buildings are constructed;
- Undertake a social impact assessment to inform the best plans and processes for tenants and their communities;
- Fund additional supports and independent tenant advice while maintaining funding of existing services and supports;
- Include genuine community empowerment and involvement at appropriate levels;
- Don’t give undertakings that cannot be met;
- Make available past plans or reports on consultations, to enable tenants to participate in informed discussions;
- Make sure communication is clear, regular and takes place in different forms;
- Provide additional training and support to FACS Housing staff tasked with working as relocation officers. This training should include presentations from tenants who have lived through the experience of redevelopment in other areas;
- Undertake ongoing evaluation;
- Follow up and support tenants that have moved;
- Carefully consider allocations to ensure they are appropriate;
- Listen to tenants and treat them with respect! This sounds easy but is anything but if really taken seriously.
Similarly, research and past experiences have provided evidence on practices to avoid – worst practice principles, if you like. So on this note, be sure not to engage in:
- Tokenism in forming partnerships and building community involvement;
- Short-term 'quick fixes'. Good outcomes take time;
- Public representations and narratives of disadvantaged locations, which entrench the problem by exaggerating an area's dysfunction;
- Actions which merely displace the problem. Projects that merely move people to new locations do not solve problems of poverty and disadvantage.
Read more about what the experts say about best and worst practice in redevelopments here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

NSW Heritage Council recommends Sirius Apartment Building for the State Heritage Register

Details can be found here (see agenda item 5.2, pages 6, 7 and 16).

More information is on the Brown Couch, here.

For the TU's submission to the Heritage Council, see here.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Bays Precinct - social and affordable housing

In October 2015, the UrbanGrowth NSW released a comprehensive transformation plan for the redevelopment of what it refers to as 'The Bays Precinct'. The precinct is so named for its proximity to four harbour bays on the western fringe of the Sydney CBD. It is made of up 95 hectares of land:

i) The port facilities, silo complex, and disused power station at White Bay and Glebe Island;

ii) The industrial area, light rail line, and disused heavy rail lines along Lilyfield Road, Lilyfield;

iii) The Sydney fish market, Pyrmont;

iv) Wentworth Park, Glebe;

v) Path areas connecting these sites. 

Aerial view of 'The Bays Precinct' (White Bay in foreground)

According to the transformation plan, this represents a major redevelopment project to be undertaken over a 25-year period. The plan lists nine overarching project objectives. Objective three is "To deliver housing choices, including affordable housing options, through design, finance and construction excellence"The plan also divides planned works into "immediate" (2015-2019), "medium-term" (2019-2022), and "longer-term" (2022-) priorities. 

Delivery of affordable housing is only referenced with regard to one sector of the precinct to be redeveloped - the Lilyfield road site. It reads, in full, "Future uses could include a mix of different housing choices, including affordable housing, as well as public spaces and employment uses." The Lilyfield site is listed as a 'longer-term' priority. 

The document does not make any reference to the delivery of social housing.

An article in The Australian dated January 21 2016 provides that UrbanGrowth has requested submissions from commercial property agents for the sale and redevelopment of the fish market site.The site is being renewed with reference to a private memorandum of understanding between its owners and UrbanGrowth. It states that the request for redevelopment is "aimed at turning the block into a world-class food market, with the winning party to also build apartments on the site." It is not provided that these apartments will include any Affordable and/or Social housing component. 

The piece also provides that the Government "is taking offers for the development rights to transform the nearby White Bay Power Station into a 100,000 square metre office park". An article the the Inner West Courier dated 4 February says that the University of Sydney, University of NSW, University of Technology Sydney, and Macquarie University are hoping to develop the space into a shared campus for tech students. The request for proposals for the White Bay site closes on 25 February 2016. 

An UrbanGrowth media release dated 9 December 2015 provides that the NSW Federation of Housing Associations, the peak body for community housing in the state, is amongst the 68 organisations granted membership of the 'Bays Precinct Reference Group'. According to the statement, the group "will be an ongoing forum for communication between UrbanGrowth NSW and the community throughout the Bays Precinct Transformation Program"

Our concerns

The critical need for new social and affordable housing stock in NSW, and especially Sydney, is well-documented. More than 60,000 people are currently awaiting housing assistance on the NSW Housing Register. For most of the state capital - including the Inner Sydney and Inner West allocation zones that include the Bays Precinct - the wait for most types of social housing dwelling is over ten years. The Baird administration has formally acknowledged this need, making the supply of new stock one of its three priorities for social housing over the next decade in its all of government Future Directions strategy. 

The Bays Precinct, meanwhile, is one of the largest and most high profile initiatives of the Government's urban renewal arm. 95 hectares is an extremely large package of land in the inner city. Moreover, a large portion of that which has been slated for redevelopment is publicly owned and currently disused or even empty. That this represents a unique opportunity to contribute to the alleviation of the social and affordable housing crisis in Sydney is self-evident. 

However, despite the project objectives proclaiming the importance of 'housing options', the available evidence suggests delivering social and affordable housing in this precinct is not a priority. The immediate priorities for renewal - the power station and fish markets - look set to include no social or affordable housing at all. Only long-term priority Lilyfield "may" include a mix of housing, when developed at an undetermined point in the future. Community Housing interests will have a voice on the project reference group, amongst more than sixty other organisations representing myriad interests.

Completing the Bays Precinct renewal without the inclusion of social and affordable housing will represent a unique opportunity lost - both for the tens of thousands enduring an interminable wait for stable and secure housing, and for our state Government who has recently placed a great deal of emphasis on increasing the city's 'social mix'.