A motion that would have made it mandatory for development approvals to include affordable housing has been voted down at ALGA’s National General Assembly.
The motion called for a national response to housing issues incorporating all levels of government, including “mandatory controls in planning schemes in the form of inclusionary zoning to require affordable housing contributions as part of private development”.
The motion, put forward by Melbourne’s Darebin City Council, said Australia has faced a structural affordability problem for the last 60 years in which the cost of housing has outstripped wages.
Capital cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, had been “acutely” impacted by a lack of investment in affordable housing, and in Victoria 80,000 people were waiting for subsidised housing.
The motion was the subject of lengthy debate and a failed attempt to remove the term “mandatory” before it was defeated 116 votes to 85.
It was the only motion to be voted down among the more than 120 debated during the three day annual gathering of local councils in Canberra over June 16-19.
Inclusionary zoning ‘critical’
“It’s absolutely critical that local governments have the ability to designate parts of their community in partnership with the state government and federal governments for these kind of mandatory inclusionary zoning projects,” Darebin councillor Trent McCarthy argued in moving the motion.
However, a number of councils spoke against the motion, including Brisbane, which said mandating inclusionary zoning would leave councils bearing the costs, public responsibility and fallout.
“Our experience in Queensland is when you start to get state governments mandating to local governments, or trying to push down what is their fundamental responsibility … it means that we as local councils ultimately bear the brunt. Mandatory things very often don’t work,” Brisbane City Council City Planning Chair Matthew Bourke argued. “Councils are going to be the ones that have to implement it but I bet you we won’t be the ones to write it.”
The motion was also opposed by Mildura City Council, which said mandatory controls would drive up house prices, and Grampians Shire, which argued it would stifle development.
“We want to see growth and its not one size fits all,” the Grampians delegate said. “It might work in metropolitan areas … but being mandated means we have to do it whether we like it or not and it will be a disincentive for investors”.
However the motion attracted support from a number of councils, including Byron Shire.
The Byron Shire delegate said the shire had recently beaten Sydney in the highest median house price and without enforcing developers to include more affordable options “it just won’t happen”.
Cr McCarthy said he was disappointed the motion had been shot down but he welcomed the debate. Those who voted “no” had probably failed to understand how the policy would have been implemented, he said.
“It’s very clear to anyone in the planning space that mandatory controls for inclusionary zoning wouldn’t be a blanket approach, they’d be an approach that’s appropriate to each local government area” he told Government News after the vote.
“For most of us in inner Melbourne who are dealing with gentrification and rapid development, we want to make sure there’s a dividend for lower income people so they can continue to live in our communities.
“For us, the only way you get that change is actually by making it mandatory for all developers, so that those who are doing the right thing and are including those affordable housing units can actually compete on a level playing field.”
Affordable housing crisis
The issue of affordable housing was a key theme at this year’s NGA with several sessions devoted to thrashing the problem out.
Professor Andrew Beer from UniSA told the conference the current housing crisis was forcing local governments to confront the problem of affordable housing in unprecedented ways.
In many local government areas councils were providing services that were supporting people to get into housing – by supporting community organisations, through the supply and zoning of land, by engaging with other tiers of government for funding or through the DA and planning process, he said.
“These are new times in the relationship between local government and housing in Australia,” he told the conference. “Many local governments are actually taking on responsibility in terms of housing that are a response to the housing crisis.
“Local government is actually central to the whole provision of housing, and in providing support to people who live in housing, and that is something that hasn’t been acknowledged in the broader Australian community.”
Robert Spivak, housing development officer for City of Port Phillip, said councils need to work with developers. He said Port Phillip was a member of the Inner Melbourne Action Plan, which is working with the private sector to provide affordable housing voluntarily through planning agreements.
Meanwhile UTS researcher Lenka Thompson said of 178 councils who responded to a survey on housing policy, 55 per cent said they didn’t have a housing policy or strategy. However she also found some innovative approaches to address the problem, including:
- Making affordable housing conditional on land sales
- Gifting land for social housing projects
- Land swaps with private owners
- Conversion of ageing assests, such as community halls, into affordable housing
- Establishing an NFP tasked with delivering affordable housing
- Transferal of airspace above parking lots for social housing
“Local government I believe does have a role to play in this space,” Ms Thompson said. “The conversation about how housing and local government interact is changing. The crisis is on your doorstep.”
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