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 realestate.com.au 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] tenantsunion.org.au. Your anonymity will be respected.


  1. Dear Tom,

    My name is Janelle and I am the CEO at City West Housing. City West Housing was set up over 21 years ago to provide affordable rental accommodation for "key workers" in the Pyrmont/Ultimo areas. We later expand our operations into Green Square. The company is quite unique and different to a tradition Community Housing Organisation in that our mandate is to provide affordable accommodation to enable key workers to sustain their employment within the City of Sydney. The houses at Maryanne Street were no longer fit for purpose and all were either 2 or 3 bedroom with the exception of 1 being a four bedroom. This property was under occupied by 2 bedrooms. The sale of these terraces allows City West Housing to develop and build dwellings which will assist approximately 100 people to access affordable accommodation as compared to under 30 people. Each tenant was extremely happy with City West Housing's process of relocation.

    While we understand your point regarding larger accommodation, purchase, develop and build all of our properties based on the people on our waiting - this in not associated with the Pathways Housing list operated by HNSW.


    1. Thanks for your feedback Janelle.

      Julie Foreman
      Executive Officer

    2. Thanks for your comment and clarification about the waiting list, Janelle.

      We have always considered the Social and Affordable Housing portfolios as integrated in many ways, not least because they are the only affordable housing option for households on moderate or low incomes. Goodness knows the private rental market isn't offering much, particularly in the inner-city areas that CWH operates in. In any case, the demand for Social and Affordable Housing as indicated by the Pathways housing register and published wait times is a useful indicator of demand for housing outside of the private rental market.

      As we move into the brave new world envisaged by "Future Directions for Social Housing" - particularly as it relates to growing the Social and Affordable Housing portfolios through the frameworks provided by Communities Plus and Social and Affordable Housing Fund - acknowledging and understanding this integration will become all the more important. Tenants and the community are entitled to know who is doing what with their 'non-private rental product' portfolios, and we will be keeping an eye on it.

      And of course, we'd love to know more about how Community Housing landlords - whether engaged in Social Housing, Affordable Housing, or a combination of both - determine what is "fit for purpose". Does CWH have anything published on how it approached this question when considering these properties in Ultimo?

      Ned Cutcher
      Snr Policy Officer @ TUNSW

    3. Hi Neil

      Great to see you are "keeping and eye on it"! I think it's important to note that we are just as concerned about the issue as anyone else and doing our utmost to produce housing to assist people of very low to moderate incomes. Again, I reiterate we are a different model to other CHP's and in fact only became registered at a provider a few years ago in anticipation of growing the business to assist more. Again, our funding is specifically for the purpose of key worker housing in the Ultimo/Pyrmont and Green Square areas. Many of our tenants would have held T Numbers on Pathways and would still be at the bottom of the list if we had not been able to assist - many perhaps would be now unemployed.

      Fit for purpose is commercial decision made by management and aligned to our demand - we do not have access to Pathways. The houses in Maryanne Street were all 2 and 3 bedroom with the exception of one 4 (the fourth being a study) and this property had two occupants. As heritage listed homes, the maintenance costs were extreme and as a NFP is would be irresponsible of us not to be invest the funds.

      I cannot comment on other Community Housing Landlords, but I would suggest that we are all trying to do our best to help those most in need.


    4. Thanks for your response Janelle. It's always good to keep the dialogue going.