The number of affordable homes won’t increase on their own, we need active planning

19 December, 2015 – Op Ed by Jenny Smith, CEO, Council to Homeless Persons:

On paper, we Melburnians are a lucky bunch. We live in a city that for the past four years has been voted the world’s most liveable, have a well-connected public transport system, a thriving economy, good employment rate, bustling CBD full of art, music and great food, an ever-expanding urban landscape, and a booming population. But the question is, “Are we all growing together?”

People are opting to live in Victoria’s capital in record numbers. Since 2006, 50 new suburbs have been added to Melbourne’s fringe, and according to Plan Melbourne our population (now at 4.3 million) is expected to reach 7.7 million by 2051. We’re even forecast to pip Sydney as Australia’s biggest city.

To keep up with this population growth of about 2% a year, we’re going to require 1.57 million new homes. But if we’re to have any chance of supporting Melburnians of all income levels and circumstances in their quest for safe housing, our governments need to actively plan for a portion of those new homes to be affordable to those on lower incomes.

So how can we ensure that access to affordable homes increases alongside the natural rise in housing supply?

One particular planning method, used widely in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and even here in Australia (in New South Wales and South Australia), is Inclusionary Zoning.

The idea is simple. For each new multi-unit development being built, a portion of the new properties (between 10-50%) must be affordable to low income earners. This mechanism encourages the creation of vibrant, diverse communities, and increases people’s access to transport, employment and services.

And it works.

The longest running Inclusionary Zoning scheme in Australia applies in Sydney’s Ultimo Pyrmont; a former industrial precinct in the inner city that was targeted under the ‘Building Better Cities’ initiative. A target was set in 1994 for some 600 properties to be acquired over 30 years as permanently affordable rental stock for very low, low and moderate income households.

Just over 10 years later, this target had already been met.

In 2015 in Melbourne alone, the State Government has approved more than 5,000 properties for construction within major developments.  If Inclusionary Zoning were in place, 500 of these properties could be available to some of the almost 35,000 Victorians awaiting public housing.

Victoria is lagging in its provision of social housing in comparison to other States and Territories. Nationally, social housing makes up between 4% – 7% of all housing, but in Victoria, social housing comprises just 3.4% of all housing stock. In neighbouring NSW, the proportion of social housing is 5.2%.

If Inclusionary Zoning is adopted in Victoria it will support the most vulnerable people in our community to have a place to call home. Those fleeing domestic violence, living with severe mental illness or disability, or experiencing long-term homelessness urgently need this support, so why aren’t we giving it a go?

We need to catch up with the rest of Australia and the rest of the world by planning for a better, more inclusive Victoria.