Sydney Alliance members rally around affordable housing

Sydney Alliance members rally around affordable housing

On 4 May the Sydney Alliance Assembly gathered at Eastwood Uniting Church to let Anthony Roberts MP, Minister for Planning and Housing know that something has to be done about the housing affordability crisis in Sydney.

Members of the Sydney Alliance addressed Mr Roberts in an effort to get concrete assurances that the government will address key issues around affordable housing targets and some key planning issues surrounding Inclusionary Zoning.

The Assembly was co-chaired by Donna Easthorpe from Churches Housing, and Leah Emmanuel from the National Tertiary Education Union.

In a room packed with 356 participants from over 50 organisations, it was a daunting prospect for the MP as he arrived late to listen to powerful testimonies from people struggling to afford a place to call home.

Their stories outlined the affect of Sydney house prices and rentals on students, our children, seniors and people in front-line employment who are working in areas like health care. In the case of Mabel, she shared her heartbreaking story of being homeless and then being assigned sub-par accommodation that threatened her health.

“We need more affordable housing so that people like me can have options and not have to live on the streets,” said Mabel, as she stood in front of the packed room.

Prof Bill Randolph is in the faculty of Built Environment at UNSW and Director of the City Futures Research Centre. An expert in affordable housing in Australia and the United Kingdom, Prof Randolph has over 30 years’ experience leading cutting-edge research on housing and urban policy issues noted in his speech to the Assembly that this is a critical issue that touches all of us.

“Affordable housing as we know it is a very complex problem but we know that our planning system has failed to deliver anything in the area of housing affordability.

Prof Randolph identified Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) as one of the tools that delivers from a planning perspective.

“IZ is a way to share the uplift in a parcel of land that results in a change of use from a planning decision.

“It’s only reasonable to assume that there should be a public benefit from that publicly accountable decision. We’ve done it here in Australia, and we’ve shown it can work,” he said.

Prof Randolph then went through a number of case studies where the significant increase in land bought, sold (some with DA approval) at astronomical prices to developers.

“This demonstrates the leeway that could be used to argue that the uplift can be used to build affordable homes.  A 15% target is what the Alliance is asking for and that’s perfectly possible in many sites. Government can lead the way here and the 30% target should be quite feasible. We need to see something in the new planning framework that incorporates these sorts of ideas and these sorts of targets.”

In a presentation from Kathryn Greiner AO who is the Chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Ageing she pointed out that “by 2050 there will be more people over the age of 65 than under 15.” This presents a number of issues , particularly with the elderly in the rental market.

“People over 65, who without home ownership are at the mercy of a steadily increasing rental market. They can afford to rent in the private market only while they are earning but as soon as they retire they are unable to afford the repayments.

“There are stories of people not using their hot water systems for six months just to save money,” said Ms Greiner.

To ensure that affordable housing for all Australians is a possibility Ms Greiner said that it is essential to use the Inclusionary Zoning mechanism for those on private pensions, low income and superannuants.

Sydney Alliance requirements to the GSC

The Sydney Alliance had previously authored and submitted a submission to the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) Draft . The submission outlines how, the current plans’ target to include a 5-10% inclusion of affordable housing on new developments, (subject to viability) is insufficient to tackle this issue.

Sydney Alliance strongly believes this target is too low and  is calling for a higher target of 15% affordable housing on private land (30% on public land) and a globally recognised citizen-standard of public transport services.  Both of these recommendations are based on cities of comparable size around the world.

An impressive roll of members gave their overwhelming support for the targets. Among Alliance members Uniting Church representatives, Matt Pulford from the National Assembly, Rev. Raymond Joso of the Synod of NSW and Act and Peter Worland of Uniting added their voices to the call for affordable housing as a basic human right.

MP Anthony Roberts had never seen a public display of support for targets as wide and diverse which is a testament to the strong commitment to this issue from Sydney Alliance and its members.

Mr Roberts said he was humbled to be present at the meeting and affirmed that his job’s purpose was to keep the ‘dream alive for people who want to live and own a home in Sydney’.

“How my children are going to afford to live in Sydney keeps me up at night. I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to the leadership shown here tonight and I want you to know that it is my duty to ensure that those testimonials here tonight have not gone unnoticed. I will do whatever I can and Gladys Berejiklian whatever she can to ensure that our children have the opportunity that we have,” said Mr Roberts.

However the assembly was left disappointed that Mr Roberts could not make a commitment to the inclusionary zoning targets.

The Minister now understands that a wide, large diverse constituency with real local power, knows the difference between specific targets for affordable housing and generalities like “housing affordability” but fell short of giving concrete assurances on the targets Sydney Alliance would like met.

While Mr Roberts MP couldn’t be drawn on setting specific targets around a higher percentage of affordable housing that were outlined in the summary recommendations he did commit to meet again with the Alliance within two months, and bring representatives from the Greater Sydney Commission.

(Pictured) Sydney Alliance co-chair Donna Easthorpe gets a commitment to meet again from Anthony Roberts MP, Minister for Planning and Housing

For gallery photos from the event click here.

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