CityTalk: Affordable Housing

(6.30pm, Lower Town Hall)

Thank you, Steve, [Cannane, MC]. Good evening, everyone, welcome to Town Hall.

Thank you all for your time, and we look forward to hearing from you.

The City has brought together this panel, and invited our community to join with us, to address the all-important issue of housing - both its affordability, and the diversity of its supply.

We all know that there is a housing crisis in Sydney. The problem has been growing for some years, but it's reached a point where it can no longer be ignored and it stretches across the whole metro region.

Housing affects everyone, and so it is an issue for us all. Many young people can no longer afford to buy into the housing market. There are also many people suffering housing stress - including about 84 per cent of lower income earners in our local government area.

These are the teachers, nurses, fireys, police and ambulance workers who keep Sydney working, who are essential to our economy, and to the social diversity that is part of Sydney's appeal as a liveable, harmonious and lively global city.

Our City will not be sustainable unless people in our essential low-paid service industries can afford to live here, rather than being condemned to lengthy congested commutes from far-flung cheaper houses on Sydney's fringes. In an increasingly investor-driven market, these are the people who are missing out.

But the problem is not only with the private market. There is also a desperate shortage of non-market alternatives - that is, social and affordable housing.

Across NSW, almost 60,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing.

The provision of affordable housing is also way behind demand, and that sector is facing very real challenges to increasing supply. Already, less than one per cent of total housing supply in our local government area is classed as affordable housing.

The issues obviously need urgent attention, and a real focus by government at all levels on finding solutions.

The City has been using all the levers under our control in an effort to deal with this urgent problem.

Most importantly, as a planning authority, we've worked to approve new housing of a high standard, with commitment to needed public infrastructure and services — including open space, child care and cultural facilities.

In the five years to June 2014, we oversaw completion of approximately 8,000 dwellings and there are currently a further 17,600 dwellings approved but not yet completed in the city.

We negotiate with developers for greater housing diversity, such as at Harold Park, where 1,000 square metres has been dedicated for affordable housing as part of our planning agreement with Mirvac.

Our affordable housing levy at June last year delivered 665 units, another 88 have just been completed and there's 104 under construction in Green Square. We have been unsuccessful in obtaining State Government approval to extend the levy to cover the entire City.

This is in stark contrast to some London boroughs, where local councils can enforce affordable housing quotas of up to 50 per cent in new developments.

The City is developing a new affordable housing levy and strategic planning instruments to provide affordable rental housing in the southern employment lands, south-west of the Green Square town centre, subject to State Government approval.

This will help ensure housing for low income workers close to the new employment. It includes a new affordable housing contribution scheme, similar to that which operates in Green Square; limits housing in certain business zones to affordable housing; and allows for potential site-specific rezonings where affordable housing and other public benefits are provided.

We've also promoted innovation, such as Common Ground Sydney based on the successful New York model to provide permanent homes and on-site support. The project opened in Camperdown in 2011, providing homes for 52 formerly homeless people and 52 people on low-to-moderate incomes. The City amended its planning controls for the project to proceed, and developers Grocon and architects Hassel provided services at cost.

And we have reviewed our property portfolio, identifying sites for affordable rental housing. Several sites have been transferred to affordable housing providers, including part of the former South Sydney Hospital site where 100 rental units are being constructed. We waived infrastructure contributions, estimated at $2 million, to make the site viable.

And we have used some of our own properties at William Street for low-cost artist housing and studios—although the Council's historic stock of housing for low income workers was handed over to the then NSW Department of Housing in 1989, while the City was being administered by state-appointed Commissioners.

While social housing is the responsibility of the NSW Government, the City is the only council in NSW with a dedicated Public Housing Liaison Officer, who is in contact with up to 2,500 public housing residents each year.

For our future social and economic prosperity, we can no longer afford to shift the chronic housing issues into the too-hard basket.

We need new and broader solutions to address this chronic issue—at local, state and federal levels, within the public, private and community sectors.

There is growing debate about the role of foreign investment and of demand-side drivers, such tax concessions and negative gearing which have not achieved the right mix of housing in the right locations.

We need all key stakeholders to focus on ways to ensure housing choice and affordability is improved, and not only for the sake of future generations but present ones as well.

This is why we've brought together so many good minds tonight to consider these issues, and to suggest some ways forward.

Everything we learn here tonight will be helping to inform our forthcoming Housing Issues Paper and our Housing Policy.

So once again, everyone, welcome and let's work together on this vital issue.

CLOSING SPEECH

Thank you, Steve, and a big vote of thanks to our panel this evening. You have given us all a lot to think about. We've heard about some significant issues and about the implications they have for all of us.

Today was the City's "housing summit" day, with this evening's talk preceded by a stakeholder workshop this afternoon. Together, they have reinforced our decision to call for real action on these issues. We can no longer ignore them and their impact on the lives of our fellow citizens.

Thank you for taking part in our panel and for your support this evening for our initiative.

We welcome your continuing input into our work in this area, and we invite your comments on our forthcoming housing issues paper.

Tonight we have heard the message loud and clear, and the City is determined to do everything we can to progress this issue and importantly, to work towards solutions, in the development of our housing policy.

Thank you all again.