Thursday, May 19, 2016

Redevelopments in Northern Sydney

Over the past year the NSW Government has launched major projects to transform the State's Social and Affordable Housing portfolios - most notably Communities Plus and the Social and Affordable Housing Fund. But throughout this period, NSW Land and Housing Corporation ('LAHC') has also busied itself with smaller scale initiatives. As we outlined last week (here, with update here), on Sydney's well-heeled North Shore this has involved 'spot sales' of large houses to the private market. It appears likely that the resulting windfall gains have assisted an underfunded LAHC to meet its operating costs. 

Above: LAHC has been busy across the City of Ryde

But LAHC has also pursued a related though distinct strategy in neighbouring Northwest Sydney. The Public Housing provider demolished a number of large, freestanding houses in the Ryde Local Government Area in 2014 and 2015. It constructed units in their place. 

Public tender documents provide that houses across four sites in the suburb of Eastwood - two each on Alison StreetRaymond Street, and North Road, and three on the corner of Banksia Street and Lovell Road - were demolished, with small apartment complexes built in place of each. We understand that the same will likely happen to Public Housing cottages on Irene Crescent, also in Eastwood. 

Eight houses on Neville and Fawcett Streets, Ryde were also levelled for multi-unit developments. Finally, LAHC demolished a house on Adelaide Street, West Ryde, replacing it with a seven-unit building. 

Land and Housing Corporation has provided that all newly-constructed units will be provided exclusively as Public Housing. 

Our response

In our earlier discussion of North Shore spot sales, we highlighted the process LAHC undertakes in assessing its housing assets: "In managing the Public Housing portfolio, Land and Housing Corporation periodically estimates the cost or windfall or maintaining, redeveloping, or selling individual dwellings. In the case of valuable North Shore land in a heated market, it appears the opportunity cost of not selling is proving difficult to resist."

It is concerning that in Northwest Sydney, substantially similar properties to those sold on the North Shore have instead been redeveloped. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that land values were a key consideration; simply put, Ryde is markedly less valuable than its blue chip neighbour. According to Land and Sales Report data, the City of Ryde ranks 18th amongst Greater Sydney's 51 LGAs by average dwelling sale price. A far cry from the North Shore, which contains six of the top ten. The contrasting fortunes of the Ryde and North Shore properties suggests that the future Public Housing is tied to some extent to the fluctuations of a speculative and volatile property market. 

At the least, LAHC has provided that it did not impose any mandatory relocation process on tenants moved on from the now-demolished Ryde properties. This must continue to be the case for as long as LAHC is driven, by underfunding and/or market conditions, to the view that some Public Housing is too valuable not to sell. 

On the other hand, it should be repeated that the redevelopment of LAHC land within the Public Housing portfolio is strongly preferable to the loss a site to private interests. Moreover, LAHC has said that its redevelopment works in Northwest Sydney are addressing increased demand for smaller, more accessible dwellings, and for more Social Housing overall, in the Ryde area. The pursuit of such objectives is legitimate. However, we might also repeat our quibble with similar projects elsewhere in Sydney. That is, a true social mix - of the sort the Government claims to desire - requires a diverse portfolio. That means larger affordable properties as well as small units and bedsits. Most notably, large properties are necessary to accommodate low-income families. LAHC's redevelopment of Ryde may well serve immediate portfolio needs, but it must not result in the disappearance of larger Public Housing properties from the area completely. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

SBS 'The Feed' on the proposed redevelopment of Waterloo

Ivanhoe Estate Tenant Group - Ryde Council's Volunteer Group of the Year, 2016.

Cross posted from the Brown Couch: former Ivanhoe Estate resident Marie Sillars talks about the strength of a community, the shock of relocation, and how to ensure all is not lost to "renewal".

My time with the Ivanhoe Estate Tenant Group Inc. started some 6 years ago and I am a Founder Member of the Group. We established a Community Centre (pictured) and started organising BBQs, meetings and getting involved in our community.

Four years ago we heard (on TV News) that Ivanhoe was to be demolished as it had gone past "its use by date" and very quickly we started to gather information, attend meetings, take part in Community Reference Group meetings and even became involved with a Parliamentary Committee on public housing. At the same time the group were running craft classes (we have knitted and crocheted scores of blankets, beanies, scarves etc. which will be donated to a homeless shelter & local hospital) computers for the elderly, breakfasts at the Centre, established a community garden (tenants were invited to take any herbs or veggies that they needed) and generally made ourselves busy with the day to day matters that a community needs. We had Oz Harvest for 2 years where we distributed up to 150 kilos of food on a Saturday afternoon and we had the greatest fun. Most of the Oz Harvest Committee were over the age of 60 and it was a great way to make sure that the elderly tenants had enough fruit, vegetables and groceries to keep them going until the next Saturday. Rain, hail and shine we worked our way through the food with an incredible energy for people of our age.

We knew the time was coming when the final decision would be made but somehow just kept working away trying not to think about the inevitable time when the FACS people would deliver the letters and we would then we would have to decide how we would deal with this. Late last year the letters were delivered and even though we knew it was coming the whole place went into shock and we were called to a meeting at the Community Centre where we were introduced to the officers who would become our Relocation Officers. It was an awful day and it had quite a negative effect upon the tenants, especially the elderly folk. We decided on that day that the Committee would go ahead "business as usual" and try hard to get through what was to become a difficult period. As Christmas at Ivanhoe came and went we all knew that this would probably be our last Christmas together as a group, and the atmosphere around the Centre changed. People were sad and a bit down and together with the Salvation Army on the Estate we tried very hard to keep people's spirits up and tried to make a positive side of the relocations.

As time went on and we were still attending meetings the interviews with our respective Relocation Officers were conducted and we were then told to wait as the Officers searched for places for us. As this has been happening tenants started to move away and so I contacted some people outside of the Estate to help establish a "Footprints" Committee to gather information, pictures and stories about the Estate so that when the new places are built, people there will know that there was a thriving, exciting community existing before. Ryde Council, Salvation Army, Macquarie University, FACS, and many of our wonderful supporters have come on board with this idea to create media, films, interviews and many other ways to show how a great Community CAN work and that Public Housing Tenants can work in a positive and intelligent way to come together and be proud of what they have achieved.

Two weeks ago I myself had to move and I am not very far away from the Ivanhoe Estate so I am able to keep craft classes happening on Mondays for those who are still there. The Committee who had worked so hard at Oz Harvest had started to move away also and we will all keep in touch in the future. As this Community fades away we are keen to let people know that through the Footprints Programme the Ivanhoe Committee will not be forgotten.

Last week (5th May 2016) some of the Committee attended a Volunteer of the Year Evening with Ryde Council and I was so very honoured to be nominated as Volunteer of the Year. I did not win but the Ivanhoe Estate Tenant Group DID win Volunteer Group of the Year 2016 and I have to say it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Even through our times of sadness it just shows that a community such as the Ivanhoe Estate can shine through, smile and move on to other communities. As they say "Onwards and Upwards" but in the end it has been a great achievement and one I will never forget!

Marie Sillars May 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Update: North Shore spot sales

In last week's article, we discussed recent 'spot sales' of Public Housing properties on Sydney's well-heeled North Shore, and its significance for the Social Housing portfolio as a whole. 

Above: Have spot sales been put on hold for Communities Plus?

We have since received some indication that LAHC recently paused intended spot sales in Northern Sydney. It has reportedly taken this decision in order to provide itself with more vacant dwellings for the ongoing relocation of around 400 tenants from the Ivanhoe Estate - part of the large 'Communities Plus' initiative. If accurate, it would not surprise if the reportedly cancelled sale of a 12-unit complex on Upper Spit Road, Mosman was in fact a deferral of sale until after those relocations are complete. 

We understand that LAHC is also planning sales of freestanding cottages in the suburb of Turramurra, in a similar manner to recent sales in Lane Cove and Asquith.

Friday, May 6, 2016

North Shore spot sales

In recent months, the announcement of numerous major estate renewal projects has attracted most scrutiny from those monitoring the Social and Affordable Housing portfolio (including this blog). But throughout this time, NSW Land and Housing Corporation ('LAHC') has also engaged in one-off 'spot sales' of Public Housing properties to private interests - most notably on Sydney's North Shore. 

Above: Lane Cove has seen numerous spot sales

The matter forms the subject of a recent Fairfax Media article, which says the NSW Government has banked $54.5 million from spot sales this calendar year. This figure does not include sales forming part of larger sell-off projects at Millers Point and Cowper Street, GlebeFairfax notes that sales took place throughout the inner and middle ring of Sydney, including seven across the North Shore - six at Mowbray Road, Lane and one in Seaforth. 

The NSW Government's 'eTendering' website provides that in December 2015, LAHC also contracted for the sale of two three-bedroom houses at Mindarie Street, Lane Cove (here and here). The Mindarie Street properties lie adjacent to the Mowbray Road properties. 

All of the Lane Cove properties sold by LAHC are situated on land zoned for high density residential development, and lie adjacent existing apartment blocks. Moreover, the Rent and Sales report provides that prices in the Lane Cove LGA are currently seventh highest of the 51 councils in the Greater Sydney region. Prices have grown by 26.3% over the preceding year, the ninth highest growth rate in Greater Sydney. The properties are therefore attractive to buyers, and especially developers, in multiple respects.

In October 2015, LAHC also completed the sale of a four-bedroom house at Lords Avenue, Asquith

However, The Mosman Daily has reported that LAHC recently opted against the sale of the 'Muston Court' apartment complex at Upper Spit Road, Mosman. The site consists of 12 one and two-bedroom dwellings, and is one of only four LAHC-owned apartment blocks in Mosman. LAHC had intended to proceed with a sale; all units are vacant after FACS Housing transferred former tenants over a number of years. But the article quotes a FACS Housing spokesman as saying the 60 year-old development will instead be refurbished and upgraded.

See also our update to this piece.

Our response

Social Housing Minister Brad Hazzard MP commonly extols the virtues of mixed communities - for Social Housing tenants especially. The following, from a February media release, exemplifies the Minister's professed position: "redeveloping [this] estate will lead to a huge improvement in social outcomes...We've already seen this with the Minto redevelopment where we now have a great mixed community and where kids in social housing see their neighbours go off to work and can see the different choices available to them." Such values are also reflected in the Government's Future Directions strategy for Social Housing over the next decade. The 'Communities Plus' and 'Social and Affordable Housing Fund' projects - major components of the objective to deliver more social housing - involve the construction of mixed tenure communities. In the case of Communities Plus, this will be delivered at the direct expense of current Public Housing estates.

As a basic principle the Tenants' Union supports the fostering of socially mixed communities, albeit with some caveats. Long have we advocated accordingly - most recently for Ultimo and Glebe. 

But in assessing the North Shore spot sales, it must be emphasised that the region is uniquely well heeled. This is borne out in the property sales data. In addition to Lane Cove, the Mosman, Hunters Hill, Willoughby, Manly, and Pittwater LGAs are also amongst the ten most valuable in the Sydney metropolitan area. Moreover, according to 2015 ATO data, the region also contains a full 7 of the 25 wealthiest postcodes in Australia by residents' average taxable income.

In managing the Public Housing portfolio, Land and Housing Corporation periodically estimates the cost or windfall of maintaining, redeveloping, or selling individual dwellings. In the case of valuable North Shore land in a heated market, it appears the opportunity cost of not selling is proving difficult to resist. Indeed the Mindarie Street houses delivered almost $3 million apiece. 

This is problematic. As Shelter NSW Executive Officer Mary Perkins told Fairfax, "social mix shouldn't be a one-way street. "You don't just rip down Redfern, Waterloo and make it a more economically mixed community [Communities Plus] and then say to the North Shore, well you're not going to have any public housing because it's a cash cow."" LAHC should look to develop mixed communities across all of Sydney and NSW - not just where it is cheap and convenient to do so. Accordingly, any sale of Public Housing should not be a reflexive or lightly taken decision. When a house sits on valuable land, and/or is expensive to maintain, renovation should be preferred, followed by redevelopment within the Social Housing portfolio. 

This would not only allow Social Housing to maintain a presence in more valuable areas, but an appropriate range of dwellings. Large houses on larger blocks will of course sell for higher sums. But social mix also requires the availability of larger dwellings as affordable rental housing - to accommodate low income families particularly. 

We also agree with Kirsty Needham, author of the Fairfax report, that the sales are "puzzling, because the Baird government gave the impression in January that the days of using public housing stock as a cash cow were over". Clearly LAHC has not ceased offloading valuable and/or high maintenance properties. In all likelihood this is a matter of financial necessity - the public landlord needing to sell to meet its operational costs. The effects of this are obviously damaging, not just to social mix but because they are patently unsustainable. There will only ever be a finite amount of prime land to sell. The NSW Government must therefore consider providing additional funds to maintaining and growing the Public Housing portfolio across the State, so that LAHC may cease dividing Sydney's suburbs into haves and have-nots. 

We welcome feedback from all tenants affected by Public Housing sales, including in Northern Sydney. This may be provided anonymously to contact [@]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

NSW Government announces SAHF shortlist

The NSW Government has announced that nine parties have been shortlisted to participate in the first stage of the Social and Affordable Housing Fund ('SAHF'). The SAHF was established in 2015, with $1.1 billion in seed capital from the State, to assist Community Housing providers, private developers, landholders, and NGOs to develop Social and Affordable Housing. 

Above: An award-winning Social Housing development 

The shortlisted parties include four standalone applicants - specialist Community Housing providers Link and St George, plus BaptistCare and Uniting, care organisations involved in Community Housing. The other five are consortia containing Community Housing providers and/or care organisations and private interests. At the industry briefing concerning the SAHF, NSW Government representatives suggested that only consortia would be considered. The State received 24 applications in total. 

There is no indication of where the shortlisted parties propose to construct new housing, nor how many properties each applicant intends to deliver. However, the SAHF project team previously indicated that approximately 30% of dwellings to be provided at the first stage will be in regional NSW. Nor is there any indication of how many parties will ultimately be successful. But given 3000 properties will be built in the initial tranche, and the minimum project size is 500 dwellings for metro-based applications and 200 for regional or mixed applications, it is possible that all shortlisted parties could be selected.

The shortlisted applicants must now submit detailed proposals. The NSW Government is expected to announce its preferred applicants in August 2016. The announcement provides that successful applicants are expected to begin tenanting SAHF properties in two to three years. 

The Social and Affordable Housing fund is one means by which the State hopes to increase the Social Housing portfolio under the overarching 'Future Directions' plan. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Estate renewal study for Airds-Bradbury

NSW Health has published a study examining the impact of the renewal of Public Housing on the "health, particularly chronic disease, quality of life and wellbeing" of affected tenants. The 'health impact assessment' examines the short and long-term consequences of relocation for tenants affected by the demolition and redevelopment of Public Housing estates in Airds and Bradbury, near Campbelltown. 

The redevelopment project will deliver a 'mixed tenure' community of approximately 2000 dwellings, of which 30% will be Social Housing and 70% private market housing. Demolition, reconstruction, and tenant relocations are progressing slowly, and are expected to continue past 2020. According to the study, 3507 people lived in the estates when works commenced in 2011. Tenants have the opportunity to move back into Airds-Bradbury as new Social Housing becomes available, though many have opted to relocate elsewhere in the Campbelltown area. 

Above: land clearing works at Airds

The study describes the old estates as "poor quality", and posits that poor housing - particularly limited access to recreation spaces, healthy food, and social and health care services - is a driver of poor health. It also suggests that health issues experienced by Airds-Bradbury tenants are compounded by the area's status as "one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged areas in NSW". Given works commenced relatively recently, the study only makes short-term findings. 

In relation to the relocation and rehousing process, the study concludes broadly that the process has had "positive and negative health impacts, often dependent on the individual, the circumstances of their relocation and their perceived sense of control". Residents who were actively involved throughout the relocation process, and who received personalised support, reported a more positive impact.

Findings related to tenants leaving the 'poor' built environment of the old estates for higher quality housing were similarly mixed. Some reported "reduced stress, increased physical accessibility and an improved sense of privacy and safety", and positive impact related to the provision of housing according to their individual needs. Similarly, many reported increased feelings of safety and security. However, single people and childless couples reported negative psychological health impacts when required to move to smaller properties. 

The impact of relocation on tenants' community networks was identified as problematic. Many reported negative impacts, related to either displacement or isolation for those relocated within the depopulated estate. This is particularly concerning as such networks are something that, according to the report, "socioeconomically disadvantaged groups tend to rely quite strongly on...for their physical and mental health".

The study ultimately finds that housing providers and health organisations should attend to four major considerations in the administration of estate redevelopments:

"1. [New] housing and neighbourhood generally are planned and built to high design standards;

2. Disruptions and inconveniences to individuals and the community during the actual redevelopment are reduced to the minimum;

3. There are appropriate services and procedures in place to support residents during each stage of the planning, renewal and relocation process; and

4. The needs and preferences of individual residents are taken into account."

Though the scale of the Airds-Bradbury redevelopment is itself considerable, the study is of potentially broader relevance. Both the suite of Communities Plus projects and the renewal project at Cowper Street, Glebe, involve the demolition of Public Housing for 'mixed communities' at the 30-70 ratio. 

We welcome feedback from all tenants affected by estate renewal works, including those at Airds and Bradbury. This may be provided anonymously to contact [@]