Sydney Alliance Housing Assembly

On July 12, the Sydney Alliance brought both the NSW Minister for Housing, Anthony Roberts, and the CEO of the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC), Sarah Hill, to a packed house of over 600, to ask a few pointed questions. These questions focused on the GSC’s planning targets for affordable rental housing. The meeting sought to get agreement from both parties for a target of 15% of development on private land and 30% of development on Government land to be set aside for Affordable Rental housing.
The Sydney Alliance went into the meeting not expecting to make much ground and they didn’t. What they did achieve was a crystal clear view of the position of both the government and GSC.
It was evident from the outset that Minister Roberts came to give a speech on housing affordability and not address the questions agreed to in negotiations prior to the assembly. His answers addressed housing supply of new housing but failed to address the supply of affordable rental housing. He again promoted more supply leading to falling house prices, therefore making housing more affordable. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee or evidence that increasing supply will have a trickle-down effect to those truly in need and, even in this last year of record supply, we have continued to see prices increase in the order of 13.5%. Minister Roberts made the comment, “just because a suburb was once working class doesn’t mean it is going to stay that way”. This indicates his belief that key workers and low-income earners be forced out of gentrified suburbs and just move to places where there are houses they can afford. This thinking fails to address the need for essential workers to be closer to employment and the increasing struggle of businesses in recruiting and retaining low to moderate income earners.
The Minister labelled the Alliance’s approach to the viability of projects which mandate inclusionary zoning, as “simplistic sloganeering”. This was refuted very clearly by Professor Bill Randolph later in the night. He reaffirmed that affordable housing produced via inclusionary zoning is paid for out of the value captured in the uplifted portion caused by the re-zoning and reflected in the value of the land being lowered. Professor Randolph dispelled the furphy that the developer would have to charge more for the other dwellings in the project. Prices are in fact set by the market, not the developer.
There were rays of hope in the answers given by GSC CEO Sarah Hill. Although she could not commit to the 15% and 30% asks of the Sydney Alliance, she did confirm that the 5-10% (on the uplifted portion only) in the GSC plan was a minimum target and that higher percentages could be negotiated over time.
When asked about projected numbers of affordable housing Sarah could not give even a ballpark figure, despite the extensive modelling they claim to have done regarding viability across Sydney. Could it be that their model only produces embarrassingly low numbers?
Sarah also offered up the possibility of a ‘Build to Rent’ scheme. There were no details given (as per the GSC draft plan), but most Build to Rent schemes offer long term rental agreements and a stability in tenancy that has been absent from Australian markets. This is a good policy to implement, which will add to the supply of long term, stable rental housing. Unfortunately, with no details being made available, there is no way to know if they will be available as affordable for low to middle income earners and key workers.
Although disappointed with the answers given on the night attendees were not discouraged. There was also great support given by The Archbishop Most Reverend Anthony Fisher OP, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Tim Williams from the Committee for Sydney, Jack de Groot from the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, and Professor Bill Randolph from City Futures. The Sydney Alliance Assembly resolved to continue working with the GSC and the Minister, and persist advocating for higher targets.
Please check out the Sydney Alliance website here, if you would like to become involved in the fight for a fairer housing system for Sydney.