Fixing Sydney's Housing Crisis Summit

(2.30pm, Town Hall House)

Hello, everyone, welcome to this discussion and workshop.

I'd also like to welcome our panel and thank them for coming here today:

  • Tim Williams, from the Committee for Sydney, who'll facilitate the discussion
  • John Daley, CEO of the Grattan Institute
  • Professor Nicole Gurran, urban planner and policy analyst from the University of Sydney and
  • Graham Jahn, the City's director of Planning, Development and Transport

And of course, I'm pleased to welcome you all here and thank you for making time to take part in our discussion.

The cost of housing is at crisis point in Sydney and it's not only inner Sydney - the problem stretches across the Sydney metro region.

The astronomical growth in house prices is now a commonplace of media reports and dinner discussions. Many young people can no longer afford to buy housing nor can they easily find rental properties they can afford.

Less visible, but equally acute, is the large cohort of people suffering housing stress - and that includes an estimated 84 per cent of lower income earners in our local government area.

These are our key workers - the teachers, nurses, ambulance drivers and others - who keep the City functioning, who contribute to its social and economic sustainability, and to its success as a harmonious and liveable global city.

Our City will not be sustainable unless people in our essential low-paid service industries that operate in the city centre can afford to live here, rather than being condemned to lengthy congested commutes from far-flung cheaper houses on Sydney's fringes.

At present, less than one per cent of total housing in the City is classed as "affordable".

And the problems are across the entire spectrum of housing.

Not only is an investor-driven private market out of reach for far too many young people, there is a desperate shortage of non-market alternatives. Across NSW, almost 60,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing.

This is an issue which affects us all. Housing is one of the foundation stones of a cohesive, equitable and successful city. It is vital to our economy, to our diversity and our social harmony.

Successive governments have deferred real action but we can no longer push the problems aside.

The City has been using a range of 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 sustainable housing of a good 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 a 1,000 square metre site has been dedicated for 5,000 square metres of 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 authorities in some locations can seek from 30 to 50 per cent affordable homes in new developments.

The City has exhibited 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.

If approved by Council and the CSPC, the proposal will help ensure housing for low income workers close to the largest employment area in our LGA.

It includes a new affordable housing contribution scheme, similar to that which operates in Green Square; limits the type of 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 supported 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.

We have also 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 NSW Department of Housing in 1989, while the City was being administered by state-appointed Commissioners.

However, 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 has been recent debate about the role of foreign investment and of demand-side drivers, such as tax concessions and negative gearing which have not achieved the right mix of housing in the right locations.

If we are to tackle these long standing pricing issues, we need a joint call to action from key stakeholders to demand housing choice and affordability, not only for future generations but for many living in our City right now.

We hope today that this discussion, and tonight's public City Talk in Town Hall, will drive forward the broader debate and inform the development of our Housing Issues Paper and our eventual Housing Policy.

So again, thank you for your interest, and I'll now hand over to Tim.


Thank you, Tim. And big thanks to all of you here this afternoon. I'd like to especially thank everyone who has shared their expertise and ideas here this afternoon on how we can fix Sydney's housing crisis.

As has been made clear during this session, it is no small challenge that we are facing. But it has been very enlightening to hear such a diverse range of views from such a diverse range of sectors.

We all agree the common thread uniting us all is our shared interest in this absolutely critical issue of delivering the right housing supply for Sydney.

It's also clear that we need to address our broken housing system which is impacting on our city, and on all of us, in different ways.

So although today we have heard voices from many different perspectives, all of them have suggested that this is an urgent issue which needs our combined efforts to successfully address - for Sydney's future sustainability and prosperity, and for the sake of future generations.

The problem cannot wait - we need action now.

That also was made clear today, and we are looking forward to working with all of you to develop a sustainable housing policy for our City.

Please keep up the passion and the good work in each of your respects spheres. This is an issue for us all, and the solutions are the responsibility of all of us. No one sector or level of government acting alone can achieve the results we need.

We must work together to fix this broken housing system, and deliver a better city and better future for Sydney.

So thank you all once again, and please join me in thank Tim for his great job as facilitator today.

And as you know, you are all invited as our VIP guests to this evening's City Talk which begins at here this evening at 6.30. It will extend our exploration of these issues into the wider community and I'm sure will become a lively debate.

The speakers include:

  • John Daley, CEO of the Grattan Institute;
  • Professor Duncan Maclennan from the University of St Andrews, Scotland; Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS;
  • John Ross, Executive Director and Head of the Public Sector at Westpac; Andrew McAnulty, CEO of Link Housing;
  • Toby Long, GM of Master Planned Communities at Mirvac;
  • Eamon Waterford, Director of Policy & Advocacy for Youth Action
  • and, once again, the wonderful Tim Williams.

It's a great line up and I hope you will join us there.

In the meantime, please stay on here and avail yourselves of the refreshments and WiFi, or else take a break outside and come back to hear more views and ideas on this hugely important issue.

Thank you all.