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Campaign will push on to strengthen affordable rental targets

The Uniting Church and partners will continue their campaign for more affordable and secure housing, after the NSW government adopted their call for lower-income affordability targets in new developments.

On March 18, Premier Gladys Berejiklian put her personal stamp on a target of low-income-affordable rental units as the planning standard across our city – in the Greater Sydney Commission’s “A Metropolis in Three Cities” plan.

The policy was a big win for community action – and especially for a three-year campaign by the Uniting Church and its partners in the Sydney Alliance.

It’s the first time a mandatory proportion of affordable units has been included in cross-Sydney planning policy. It will lead to hundreds of homes being built in coming years, and hopefully many thousands in future.

The target of 5-10 per cent of floor space in the post-rezoning “uplift” will fall well short of creating the GSC’s target of 8,000 new affordable rental homes per year – needed to address the crisis that puts Sydney second-last in the world for affordable accommodation. The new policy also leaves serious loopholes that will diminish its enforceability.

Nevertheless it was a big win for “people power”, creating the potential for further action at state and local government levels to ramp up the targets.

The policy was passed despite initial opposition from the Premier, treasurer and treasury officials, and the planning minister – they were brought around by sustained community voice and action, coordinated by the Sydney Alliance with strong input from Uniting’s Social Justice Forum.

More than a hundred volunteers from the Sydney Alliance and its partners at the “Penrith speaks” affordable housing survey action on March 17. Photo: supplied

More than a hundred volunteers from the Sydney Alliance and its partners at the “Penrith speaks” affordable housing survey action on March 17. Photo: supplied

The policy was announced a day after the Alliance had sent hundreds of volunteers – many from Uniting Church congregations – onto the streets of the marginal Western Sydney electorate of Penrith, surveying community opinion showing overwhelming support for more being done for affordable and secure rentals (Sydney Alliance media release and survey report).

According to GSC officials, affordable rental targets remained a top priority through its long consultations because of sustained Alliance intervention.

The campaign has also won NSW Opposition support for close to its rental affordability and security targets; and has prompted several local councils to adopt or strengthen their policies.

For the Alliance partners including Synod and Uniting, more work remains: to increase and strengthen affordability targets over time by further advocacy at state and local levels; and to win government support for an end to “no grounds” evictions.

On May 26 a community forum on affordable housing will be held at Penrith Uniting Church; while Alliance partners including Uniting will continue their advocacy work at state and local government levels.

Most of all, the experience has been one of empowerment for Sydney’s diverse communities, who have come together as never before to ensure more people will have a safe and secure place to call home.

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