Minute with Magnus

Sometimes affordable housing meetings are not always what you expect.

Landcom just launched a partnership opportunity through an event focused on the increased supply, diversity and affordability of housing.

Dan Gregory, of Gruen Transfer fame, opened proceedings, discussing how we lead change; especially relevant as we are in a sector with the unsolvable solvable problem of affordable housing.

In the increasingly changing digital era, the problem for us is not that we don’t have enough information, it’s that we have way too much information.

The problem of information overload means that good is no longer good enough.

What we really need is not even more information but the space to think even more creatively about the problem, focusing on innovative solutions instead of precedents.

More than ever, we also need to ensure we are solving the RIGHT problems and that we work at increasing the DIVERSITY in our problem solving teams – research demonstrates that increasing diversity, bringing in people who think differently from the rest of the group, will always lift the combined IQ of the group.

Being more collaborative is actually about generating solutions that were not thought of until we get everyone around the table – and think diverse, everyone!

Sometimes it means deliberately going out to find the people that can deliver insights that you don’t have around that table, such as the emergency medical teams who learnt amazing things about handing over patients from the leaders of F1 pit crews (https://ama.com.au/ausmed/doctors-use-formula-one-pit-crews-safety-model).

How are you going to lead creatively in the future?

Vertical village project develops

Church Housing’s Vertical Village project is up and running with approval now given for the research proposal and an ongoing submission of the ethics component through Macquarie university.

Planning for the theological underpinning of the project is also underway with topics being formulated and paper writers being approached.

For those new to the concept of Vertical Village, here is a simple explanation.

We all know about horizontal villages, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. We have either grown up in one or visited one at some stage.

Think of a country town with a town centre boasting the usual amenities; shops, police, fire station, church, community hall, parks and sporting fields, swimming pool, clubs as well as housing for the populace.

In this scenario most are within walking distance horizontally. These horizontal villages usually have a strong sense of community. People often work in the local area.

For those who grew up in the suburbs of a city, what you experienced is somewhat akin but on a larger scale. The amenities are still spread horizontally but with larger distances (no longer walkable). Sense of community is somewhat less as commuting to work and the centralisation of amenities in large regional marketplaces means travelling outside the local community.

Since the invention of the lift, higher density living has been possible and with the increasing world population, inevitable. With less horizontal space available, density needed to become vertical. But vertical density whilst still working on the horizontal village model has created loss of community and isolation of individuals and families.

The communal space available in these higher density areas was created on the horizontal plane and cannot cope with the number of people wanting to use it. People have little or only passing contact with neighbours.

The Vertical Village concept seeks to address this problem by asking the question “How can we provide the necessary amenities vertically alongside/within housing developments where communities can develop and flourish?”

Project brief

The aim of this research is to explore how faith-based organisations (FBO) can facilitate place-making and community development in multicultural high-rise, mix-tenure and high-density urban environments.

Planned project tasks

  • explore examples of FBO-led and secular community development in high density, multi-cultural urban environments
  • design a case study on Macquarie Park & other developments
  • research the ways in which place-making and community development can be helped in mix-tenure developments through urban design and practice
  • conduct and evaluate community-development workshops to explore the assets, resources, networks and capacities of local FBOs and residents to grow connections and enhance place-making in Macquarie Park.
  • develop an online toolkit and research report to inform urban design, place-making and community development in high density urban environments
  • write a theology of place and community to inform both village design and church engagement

Project partners

muniWebcropped-ChurchesHousingLogo_colour_without_tagline.jpgSalvos-ShieldTogether For Ryde

Minute with Magnus

I’ve been procrastinating writing my minute! For everyone working in our sector, particularly in regards to advocacy and systemic policy change, things can often be more than a little disheartening.

So much talk, so much reading, lots of writing, so many meetings and discussions, plus a few elections for, well … often very little discernible result.

And yet there are hopes, such as the 1,600 or so units currently being built by the church sector (Vinnies, Uniting, BaptistCare and Anglicare Sydney) through the Social and Affordable Housing Fund.

Still, sometimes it is just so hard when things move so slowly.

And yet, a few days ago, I may have made a discernible difference, just because I stopped to chat to Alex, who has been on the streets for a few months since his mum’s place burnt down.

We had a coffee together and I bought him a pie.

Then I walked down the road with him to the Homelessness Connect fair in Parramatta Mall and introduced him to a few service providers who will hopefully be able to help him out.

It really wasn’t that hard and only took a few minutes.

Later that afternoon I went to Parliament House in Macquarie St to talk some more with politicians about the way forward and Alex has given me some extra motivation to keep going.

These are not just policies we are talking about, these are real people facing enormous difficulties often without any resources or other people to help them along the way.

A minute with Magnus? Nah, a minute with Alex is much better!

Churches Housing’s survey shows satisfaction up

Each year, Churches Housing surveys members to assess what’s working and what’s not. Overall, this year’s survey shows that satisfaction is increasing as shown in some random results:

  • 83% of members think we’ve supported them to deliver innovative housing solutions
  • 82% are satisfied to very satisfied that we’re doing a good job public advocacy on housing issues
  • 81% say we’ve kept them well-informed about government programs

What would you change to improve Churches Housing’s service to its members/stakeholders?

  • Churches Housing provides a wide range of services to smaller NGOs in the Tier 3 area. While communications are quite good and various forums & get-togethers provide a strong platform for information share and networking, more directed gatherings supporting the three tiers might be beneficial.
  • Information available to connect with projects and other initiatives, networking opportunities


General comments

  • I have been impressed with the level of commitment and knowledge in my dealing with Churches Housing. They act as a strong intermediary in dealing with FACs and LAHC. They form an integral link between CHPs and the funding body.
  • Cannot speak highly enough of Rob Powell who was an absolute pleasure to work with. Rob guided us through the Community Housing registration process and his knowledge and expertise made the process incredibly straightforward and seamless.
  • I think what Churches Housing is doing is great I very much appreciate their inclusiveness and their deep knowledge of homelessness that the people who work there have. I think this is extremely important in any program working to support those in danger of homelessness.

NSW needs 91,000+ affordable dwellings in next 10 years

At Churches Housing, we are often asked what is the current and forecasted need for affordable housing in greater Sydney and the rest of the State.

So, we asked the City Futures research Centre at UNSW to extract these figures from one of their recent reports*.

In Sydney at the moment, we need more than 55,000 dwellings to meet unmet needs and another 24,100 in the rest of the State.

The total needed in 10 years is 91,450.

Affordable housing needs: current and by 2029

Section of Australia Current unmet need Projected unmet need by 2029 Total additional need
Greater Sydney 55,300 10,250 65,550 Greater Sydney
Rest of NSW 24,100 01,800 25,900 Rest of NSW
79,400 TOTAL current 12,050 TOTAL by 2029 91,450 Total NSW


Estimating need and costs of social and affordable housing delivery by Dr Laurence Troy, Dr Ryan van den Nouwelant & Prof Bill Randolph, March 2019 CHIA and Homelessness NSW

From table 1: summary of national social and affordable housing need by sub-region (households)

Affordable rental housing not delivering for low-income earners, says report

Affordable rental housing is not available to those who need it, says new research by the City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney, commissioned by the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (SSROC).

The survey found that Division 3 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing) 2009 (ARHSEPP) is being used to develop self-contained “micro-apartments” instead of providing affordable housing for marginal households which was its original intent. These “micro-apartments” are predominately occupied by renters who are either employed or doing tertiary studies.

The research found that the occupants of boarding houses were closer in profile to typical renters than traditional boarding house occupants or social housing waitlists. However, the survey also highlighted that nearly 90% of low-income earners were paying more than a third of their income on rent.

While these “micro-apartments” are able to be fast-tracked under Division 3 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing) 2009 (ARHSEPP), the developments are mostly not operating as lodgings.

Furthermore, self-contained apartment complexes do not meet the definition of a boarding house under Boarding House Act 2012 (NSW), so are not subject to operating regulations and inspection regimes to maintain fire safety, shared accommodation standards and at-risk occupant referrals to FACS.

Dr Laurence Troy, lead author of the report said that “people living in these new types of boarding houses are not who you typically except to find in more traditional boarding houses. The ARHSEPP was intended to provide options for marginal renters, but what we are finding is the most occupants are students and younger workers, people who you ordinarily find in mainstream studio apartment rentals.”

Some key findings of the research report Occupant Survey of Recent Boarding House Developments in Central and Southern Sydney are summarised below:

  • Occupants were mostly (65%) overseas born (though not all recent arrivals), mostly (63%) under 35 years old, and evenly split along gender lines (54% female)
  • 86% were rented out under formal tenancy agreements (cf. lodgings), with a similar proportion being self-contained, with private bathrooms and kitchens, and in some cases partly furnished
  • 41% had access to common areas and onsite management
  • 64% were on low incomes (<$800 per week)



Help for CHPs to apply for cheaper, longer-term loans

Community housing providers are being invited to apply for cheaper and longer-secured loans from the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC).

To help Tiers 2 and 3 CHPs apply, NHIFC has a grant program that funds professional advisory services providers chosen by the Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA).

One such advisory company, Caldrex Capital, met various CHPs at a breakfast hosted by Churches Housing in early August.

Anglicare, BaptistCare, Ecclesia Housing and Uniting were just some of the CHPs that attended.

As part of providing better solutions for registered CHPs, NHFIC operates an Affordable Housing Bond Aggregator (AHBA).

AHBA aims to provide cheaper and longer-term secured loan finance for community housing by issuing bonds in capital markets.

Two projects announced in mid-July give some idea of the work being done.

In the first-ever construction loan to a CHP, BlueCHP will borrow $45.7 million to build at least 93 new dwellings in affordable housing projects at Lane Cove and Liverpool, on sites being acquired under the NSW Government’s Communities Plus program.

The construction loan will be for two years at interest of less than 4 per cent, which BlueCHP expects will generate savings of more than $600,000 each year.

In the second project, Bridge Housing will borrow $40 million loan for almost 300 social and affordable dwellings across Sydney.

The 10-year, low-interest loan will enable Bridge Housing to refinance existing projects and fund new ones. Over the life of the loan, it is estimated that NHFIC’s finance will save the community housing provider (CHP) as much as $7 million in interest and other costs compared to market rates.

Vertical Villages project gets off the ground

Churches Housing is increasingly involved with the Ryde Pastors Network on its Vertical Villages Investigation Project in conjunction with Macquarie University.

The network aims to understand how faith-based organisations (FBOs) can help community development in multi-cultural high-density environments so all can flourish, physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually.

Working with the Department of Geography and Planning, the project will use various methods including:

  1. semi-structured interviews with residents and community development experts
  2. case studies of three different residential towers (one with common facilities, one with none and Morling College which is FBO-run accommodation)
  3. workshops with existing residents of the Ivanhoe Estate, Macquarie Park
  4. development of an online toolkit for congregations/FBOs
  5. film production
  6. academic outputs (journal articles, book chapters, conference presentations)

Minute with Magnus

Well, nobody saw that election result coming!01 Magnus

Within the social and affordable housing sector, it takes us back to square one and we may need to consider our advocacy strategies if we are to make any progress federally over the next three years.

Can we learn to speak the language of economics, infrastructure and return on investment?

And can we make for a compelling case?

I’m sure we can. There is already a large and robust body of research on this topic. It is a challenge when the wind appears to be taken out of your social and affordable housing sails, but for the many vulnerable people under housing stress and staring down homelessness we have no choice but to persevere.

Focusing on avoided costs (think justice, health etc), viewing housing as social infrastructure and as a public health intervention (see AHURI Report 312 – The Business Case for Housing as Infrastructure, May 2019) may connect with minds that have not been convinced by a social justice narrative.

This is me preaching to myself but I figure there are a few of you reading this who may feel the same way.

If you are, then I would love to know your thoughts on how we may prosecute our advocacy over the next few years.

And with that, I need to let you know that I am on extended leave for 4 weeks, returning to the hot seat on Monday 1 July.

During this time, my more-than-capable colleague and collaborator, Philippa Yelland, will be stepping up – no doubt able to change the world of housing in that time.

I wont be monitoring emails nor taking calls as I’ll be overseas. Bon voyage!

Join us in our research

Churches Housing is now engaging in two longer-term research projects which seek to inform how to build flourishing communities. If your organisation is interested in participating in any of these projects then we would love to talk with you.

02 researchBuilding Flourishing Cities: Faith-based engagement in Vertical Villages and the path to a better quality of City Life (A Salvation Army grant and locally led research from the Epping-Ryde-Macquarie Park precincts)

The input of people of faith into city and social developments has never been more urgent.

The world is experiencing rapid urbanisation with over half the population currently living in

an urban context.

This trend is set to rise steeply in the next 30 years, and by 2050 it is expected that over two-thirds of the global population will live in cities.

In Sydney, our current population stands at just over 5 million people, but this is anticipated to increase to 6 million in just 10 years.

Both globally and locally there are both enormous challenges, and tremendous opportunities for urban environments. With densifying centres and inner rings, and growing outer suburban rings, understanding and serving urban environments is a significant exercise for all faith communities.

Important question must be asked from a faith perspective:

What will be the quality of life for those living in our growing cities?

How will city dwellers in high-density towers engage in healthy spirituality and life giving


Where will urbanites gather to build meaningful connections with their neighbours?

What can be done to support and nurture sustainable communities in these vertical villages?


Faith-based engagement through housing: examining new forms of community development, service provision and place-making (An ARC Linkage grant proposal led by Macquarie University)

This project will bring together a well-matched set of industry, community and academic partners to investigate how faith-based for-purpose organisations active in the fields of social and affordable housing negotiate the rapidly changing housing environment in NSW to contribute to practices and outcomes that address entrenched patterns of housing stress, social disadvantage and poverty in NSW.

Faith-based for-purpose organisations play important roles in delivering current housing and welfare policy, which prioritises creation of communities that include a mix of social, affordable and market units in medium and high-density developments, often led by private developers and secured through public tender processes.

Faith-based groups are simultaneously charged with addressing the challenges of concentrated social and economic disadvantage characteristic of social housing locations. They increasingly deliver services and support once provided by the state.

Those roles are under-researched and poorly understood by many in the field.

Importantly, as the management of social housing is transitioned to the community housing sector, partnerships between community housing providers and faith-based organisations are becoming more important in managing communities and providing the required social, cultural and economic support.

We are interested in the diverse ways that housing (public, community and affordable) has been mobilised by faith-based organisations (often in partnership with housing providers) as a means of addressing social and economic disadvantage and this research will increase both understanding and efficacy in delivering outcomes that address the key issues.