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Housing affordability – time for NSW to turn words into action

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her government’s Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) are being urged to act on the Premier’s expressed wish to improve housing affordability.

Uniting and Sydney Alliance affordable housing campaign partners at NSW parliament. November 2016. Photo: Supplied
Uniting and Sydney Alliance affordable housing campaign partners at NSW parliament. November 2016. Photo: Supplied

Latest figures show Sydney in the grip of a worsening affordability crisis – aggravating social inequality, stressing and scattering families, threatening community diversity and straining transport and infrastructure. Sydney now has the world’s second least affordable housing – behind only Hong Kong, and worse than London and New York.

Housing and planning experts have proposed a range of reforms – from negative gearing and capital gains tax reform and a new “bond aggregator” at federal level, to state-based measures such as strengthening tenancy rights and replacing stamp duty with a broad-based property tax.

One feasible state measure supported by a broad consensus of experts is “inclusionary zoning” – the mandating of a percentage of units in new developments to be offered at rents affordable to lower income tenants.

After a campaign throughout 2016 by Uniting, the Uniting Church Synod of NSW-ACT and partners in the Sydney Alliance, the GSC included affordability quotas in its draft city plans – but the targets were low and the wording weak.

On her elevation to the Premiership in January, Ms Berejiklian named housing affordability as one of her top three priorities – along with budget and infrastructure.

Uniting Executive Director Peter Worland wrote to congratulate the new Premier, urging her to “make a real difference to housing affordability across Greater Sydney and NSW” by supporting affordability quotas of at least 15 per cent of units in new developments, and at least 30 per cent on government-owned land.

The GSC is now taking public submissions on its draft district plans – including for Sydney South. Submissions close on March 31. Housing experts and NGOs see the Commission’s proposed affordability targets of 5-10 per cent as much too low – and they argue a 15-30 per cent minimum should apply to all units in new developments, not just the “uplift” of units added after rezoning.

Similar or higher quotas have been adopted in cities worldwide – including London, New York, Galway, Rotterdam and Adelaide – with no adverse impact on housing prices or supply.

Experts have pointed out that inclusionary quotas need to be locked in by loophole-free legislation. The targets don’t impede development if they’re made a condition of rezoning – reducing only the massive windfall profits (sometimes over 400 per cent) large landholders can reap from rezoning, often without building anything on the land.

Uniting and partners argue it’s reasonable and fair that at least 15 per cent of this added value be returned to community benefit via low-income-affordable housing.

 

Take action on housing affordability: Make a submission to the Greater Sydney Commission by March 31. Submissions can be brief and need take only a few minutes. For more information, email Uniting’s Social Justice Forum, or call Stafford Sanders on 0412 070 194.

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