City Futures Blog

News and research in housing and urban policy, from Australia’s leading urban policy research centre.

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Lifting the energy efficiency standards of low-cost rentals

Posted by on September 19th, 2018 · Climate change, Government, Housing, Housing conditions, Sustainability, Tax, Wellbeing

By Edgar Liu, City Futures Research Centre.

The Australian Senate’s Environment and Communications References Committee recently published the Final Report of its Inquiry on current and future impacts of climate change on housing, buildings and infrastructure. This came about after extensive community consultation on the back of parliamentary flip-flopping regarding if and how Australia will meet our Paris Agreement obligations.

This Inquiry Report details the potential impacts that continued climate change may have on urban and coastal areas, on different socio-demographic groups, on our economy, on our health and wellbeing, and on the adaptability of our current homes and workplaces. Our submission to this Inquiry (#24) highlighted the findings of our CRC LCL-funded project, particularly the negative impacts lower income households will continue to endure if their access to energy efficient products and renewable energy sources remain price-prohibitive, when split incentives persist so that landlords remain reticent about performing sufficient upgrades, and worsening climate change means the poor quality housing that these families live in will get even more unbearable in extreme weather conditions.

Change, however, may be coming. Recently, Independent South Australian Senator, Tim Storer, proposed a new Treasury Law Amendment to the Australian Parliament, under which landlords of low-rent properties would be eligible for tax offset incentives to perform energy efficiency upgrades to their investment properties. A new Senate Inquiry is inviting public submissions to the Committee Secretary until close of business on 28 September 2018.

This proposed Bill and Senate Inquiry is a good first step to setting minimum standards for rental properties, standards that have been in place across the European Union for nearly a decade and strongly supported in Australia by advocacy groups like Environment Victoria. Our submission to the new Inquiry, however, highlights a few shortcomings in the proposal. These concern the proposed regulation’s ability to keep upgraded properties in the lower end of the rental market for vulnerable households—the very households that this Bill was designed to protect—to access; its ability to minimise disruptions to sitting tenants and avoid potential displacements; and how double-dipping by landlords may be avoided.

There is no doubt unaffordable energy and energy poverty is causing great grief to many families, and having a thermally comfortable home that is efficient to run is vital to overcoming that. As our research shows, having the political will to make that change—such as proposed in the latest Treasury Law Amendment—is an important step forward to making that a reality.

A dashboard for the GreenWay

Posted by on September 3rd, 2018 · Bikes, Data, Planning, Public space, Sydney, Transport, Wellbeing

By Alessandra Buxton, Ori Gudes, Chris Pettit and Vandana Mann, City Futures Research Centre.

Cycling around Sydney CBD and the surrounding suburbs has been dubbed a dangerous and difficult experience by Sydneysiders. Both Sydney and NSW are at the bottom of their classes in terms of cycling participation rates, with participation declining since 2015 in both greater Sydney and regional NSW to 10 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. Despite the City of Sydney’s encouragement to get more commuters using cycling as their mode of transport, the lack of cycling infrastructure is a sore point.

Residents and local councils have been eager to find a solution to make the overall experience safer for cyclists. One of the recommended solutions is the GreenWay corridor: a transport route containing footpaths, cycle-ways, parks, playgrounds, bush care sites, cafes, public art and community facilities. Funded by the NSW state government, the Inner West Council and the City of Canterbury Bankstown, the goal of the GreenWay is to increase the rate of active residents and cyclists for both commute and recreational purposes. The corridor follows a route of the Rozelle to Dulwich Hill freight rail corridor and connects two of Sydney’s major waterways, the Cooks River and the Parramatta River at Iron Cove Bay. Currently the corridor is half-way through construction and is missing many necessary links such as bridges and tunnels, but completion is expected in the next few years.

Research undertaken by UNSW City Futures funded by the National Heart Foundation on the GreenWay in the Inner West measures the active travel rates on the dashboard ‘Map Story’. The primary aim of the study being to develop a framework to measure the impact of active transport infrastructure and to address the gap in knowledge regarding the impact of new active transportation infrastructure. The study meets a core objective of the Heart Foundation which encourages active travel and an increase of infrastructure to support it. Through the research offered the data is designed to influence and support investment in infrastructure and make the city safer place to ride.

By measuring the current use of the GreenWay, researchers have provided a clear and accessible format on a Map Story for urban planners and local councils to view data and understand how effectively the infrastructure is being utilised. Through the collation of research from NSW Roads and Maritime Services, Inner West Council, the Super Sunday Report and crowd-sourced data, City Futures has produced an interactive map showing popular routes, peak hours and air quality along the GreenWay.

Along with assisting local governments in understanding the effectiveness of an active travel corridor, the study also provides important information and maintains the analysis of air quality using a mounted sensor.

Continuing to monitor the air quality will provide evidence of the role of urban green corridors in cooling the environment, educate the community on the value of green spaces, provide data that allows the public to avoid areas with poor air quality, expose school students to the value of good air quality and diversity in flora and fauna as well as providing cost effective evidence of air quality to the city council.

The in-depth data has pleased the Heart Foundation, which maintains the corridor is beneficial for the local community’s health. “We are very happy to support the GreenWay Dashboard project. It has the power to demonstrate in a very tangible form how thoughtful infrastructure can translate into increased physical activity and better public health outcomes.”

Vale Patrick Troy

Posted by on August 24th, 2018 · Guest appearance

Image: Fairfax.

By Frank Stilwell. Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Patrick Troy was a passionate advocate for better Australian cities. This was the continuous thread through his activities as an engineer, town planner, urban studies academic, senior federal public servant, author and activist.

The pinnacle of his influence was during the Whitlam government period in the 1970s. Pat left his job at the Australian National University to become deputy secretary of the newly established Department of Urban and Regional Development, with Tom Uren as its minister. Pat recruited and led the team that created policies for urban improvement and more balanced regional development. The intention was to make the cities more efficient, equitable and sustainable.

Emphasis was put on developing new growth centres, including Bathurst-Orange and Albury-Wodonga. Land commissions were established, mandated to release more public land to make housing more affordable. Big parts of Glebe and Woolloomooloo were bought for upgraded public housing so that working class people could still live in the inner city. The western suburbs were connected to the main sewer system, becoming fully flushed for the first time.

There was much more in the pipeline, too. The flurry of activity brought the federal government into urban policy areas previously neglected by the states. Nothing quite like it has been seen since. Pat Troy’s guiding hand was on all of it.

Not all the plans came to fruition. Cities and regions aren’t easily transformed. It takes 20 years or more, and requires cross-party collaboration that is rarely seen in Australian politics. When Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government replaced Whitlam’s government in 1975, DURD was abolished and business as usual resumed.

Although deeply disappointed, Pat didn’t give up after DURD’s demise. He put his energies into making the ANU’s Urban Research Unit into the premier place for urban policy studies in Australia. He wrote and edited numerous books and reports, organised research projects and conferences, was active in the media and advised governments and whoever would listen.

Pat Troy was born in Geraldton, WA, the son of Hilda and Paddy Troy, and then grew up in Fremantle. His dad Paddy was a waterside worker and the best-known Communist unionist in Western Australia. Paddy spent three months in jail for a minor political infringement. The Fremantle house where the family lived was a meeting place for activists and refuge for people needing help. To hear Pat talk about it, there was seldom a dull moment.

After qualifying as an engineer, Pat was sponsored by the Federation of British Industry to undertake further study and work in the UK. On arrival in London, his sponsors interrogated him closely because Australian security authorities had told them that he was a potential trouble-maker. True to form, ASIO had made a simple error, confusing Pat with his dad.

After returning Down Under, Pat worked for the NSW State Planning Authority and studied highway engineering at the University of NSW. He moved to Canberra to join the Urban Studies Unit at the ANU in 1966 and was already well-established there, with strong personal Labor Party links, when the opportunity to work with the Whitlam government arose.

Both before and after his stint with Whitlam and Uren, he and his colleagues made the urban research program at the ANU a seedbed for talent. Many of its young researchers later became senior professionals and professors in their chosen fields. Pat also mentored PhD students from all around Australia who attended his residential workshops. He initiated a series of annual conferences on Australian cities for urban researchers and practitioners.

Pat’s contributions were officially recognised by his election to the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and his being  made an officer in the Order of Australia.

However, the fad for managerial restructuring started to infect universities in the1980s and put his Urban Research Program under threat. The academic bureaucrats, in their ‘‘wisdom’’, eventually closed it in the 1990s. Pat never forgave them for what he considered to be an act of sheer bastardry.

Still, he maintained his academic connection with the ANU, becoming an emeritus fellow in the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies. He also had honorary positions at Western Sydney University and the University of NSW where he continued to foster excellence in research. His life was that of a prominent public intellectual. Together with Hugh Stretton, author of Ideas for Australian Cities, he was Australia’s greatest champion for seeking social justice through planning for better cities.

It was not all hard work. His home in Canberra with Sandy was a place of renowned hospitality, with fine food and plentiful good wines to be shared. Pat was a renowned raconteur. Some thought him increasingly grumpy in his later years but then there was a lot to be grumpy about.

What had happened to cities since the DURD era was a source of much chagrin. He thought that the fashion for urban consolidation was creating cites that are too dense, inequitable and unsustainable. The scourge of ‘‘economic rationalism’’ in public policy and its over-reliance on markets to ‘‘solve’’ social problems was a yet more general source of dismay.

But Pat never gave up hope of making a difference, even after his diagnosis with cancer more than a decade ago. Until his quite sudden end, he was actively researching, writing and lobbying. He maintained his strong physical presence.

Pat leaves his partner Sandy, brothers and sisters, many children and grandchildren.

All who care about the quality of urban life have much to thank him for.

Patrick Troy: 1936-2018

The new national housing agreement won’t achieve its goals without enough funding

Posted by on July 17th, 2018 · Affordability, Affordable housing, Finance, Government, Housing, Housing supply
File 20180716 44088 i7gek.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

By Vivienne Milligan, City Futures Research Centre. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

This month, yet another policy agreement on housing between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments came into effect. The National Housing and Homelessness Agreement is the latest version of a 73-year-long series of such intergovernmental pacts to ensure affordable housing for lower-income Australians and to fund services for the homeless.

It replaces the ten-year National Affordable Housing Agreement and a series of partnerships since 2008 to tackle homelessness – the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. The latest agreement has more achievable performance indicators than its predecessors. It also requires the states to report on their annual financial contributions – a worthy step up for transparency.

But, at a time of growing population and enduring housing stress, the Commonwealth’s latest budget promise to maintain its current funding contribution of A$1.3 billion for the housing agreement means there has been no increase in real funding. Keeping it at what it has been isn’t enough to cover the costs of current services, let alone increase them.

So, there is a disconnect between the lofty goal of improving access to affordable, safe and sustainable housing and the funding capable of supporting it. Until this funding shortfall is addressed, any new national housing and homelessness agreements will continue to be essentially different in name only.

What’s new this time?

Compared to recent former agreements, three matters stand out as new or refreshed.

First is the policy breadth. Unlike its predecessors, the new agreement aspires to improve access to housing “across the housing spectrum”. This refers to the full suite of housing tenures – from crisis housing to home ownership. Within this spectrum the Commonwealth has set several immediate priorities:

  • achieving an efficient, responsive and well-managed social housing system
  • support for community housing and affordable housing models that can viably increase housing supply
  • tenancy reform that encourages security of tenure in the private rental market
  • strategies to promote market supply and efficiency, including planning system reforms, land-release initiatives and support for home ownership.

This broadened coverage is generally welcome, but it falls short of satisfying the calls for a national housing strategy. This means many national policies with major impacts on housing demand and cost – such as taxes on housing investment, immigration levels and income support for renters – remain outside the influence of the agreement. Such policies also strongly influence the prospects of reducing housing stress.

The second, and arguably biggest, set of changes concerns accountability. This includes an expanded list of performance measures, the Commonwealth leading a standardised approach to data measures, and a formal independent Productivity Commission review of the agreement to be conducted within four years.

The new performance indicators replace the targets from 2008, which were never achieved. The failed measures were quantitative in nature, while the new ones simply adopt a requirement for progress (an increase or a decrease, as appropriate), which can be more readily achieved.

For example, the Rudd government’s pledge to halve the rate of homelessness by 2020 has shifted to “decreases in people experiencing homelessness and repeat homelessness”. Similarly, the 2008 commitment to reduce the proportion of low-income renter households experiencing rental stress by 10% has been replaced by a commitment to simply reduce the proportion of such households.


A third feature is a requirement for states and territories to annually publish housing strategies. Stakeholders will be able to judge and compare the merit of these published blueprints. These will come after a new set of high-level bilateral agreements negotiated between each state and territory and the Commonwealth.

This highlights differences in housing conditions between jurisdictions and incorporates state-level priorities in addition to those of the Commonwealth. Those published so far vary considerably in ambition and specificity.

The elephant in the room

While there are positive directions in the new agreement, the funding deficit remains an issue. Despite not increasing its funding, the Commonwealth hopes the states and territories will increase theirs.

The Commonwealth, however, has failed to extend or replace other large housing programs that operated in the past decade. These included the now closed National Rental Affordability Scheme, which resulted in over 36,000 new affordable rental houses, and a A$5 billion national partnership to improve housing supply and conditions in remote (largely Indigenous) communities.

As a result there is now less federal funding for new social and affordable housing than at any time over the last decade.

The ConversationWith so much detailed by so many about the manifest inadequacy in funding required to meet housing need in Australia, we can regrettably predict that the new agreement will not contribute much at all to an increased supply of social and affordable housing. Indeed, this is tacitly acknowledged – the agreement’s carefully crafted performance indicators include no such measure.

Vivienne Milligan, Visiting Senior Fellow – City Futures Research Centre, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW


Can the market provide affordable housing?

Posted by on July 9th, 2018 · Affordability, Affordable housing, Government, Housing, Housing supply, Marginal rental, Planning, Private rental, Sydney
A new-generation boarding house in Randwick built under AHSEPP, with units that were advertised for $500 a week.

There is an ongoing debate about the best role for the planning system in addressing the shortage of affordable housing in Australia’s cities. At one end of the spectrum is the argument that its role in setting land value can be parlayed into mandating the inclusion of targeted affordable housing. At the other end is the argument that there is a need to simply remove planning constraints on supply, particularly on lower-cost housing options.

A good example of the latter has been the NSW State Environmental Planning Policy for affordable rental housing, or “the AHSEPP”. Introduced in 2009, the AHSEPP sought to remove barriers to, and even provide incentives to stimulate, the market delivery of housing options affordable for low-income households. The policy’s purpose as described in explanatory material highlights its role in addressing long waiting lists for social housing, among other worthy goals. Although broad in scope, the policy essentially relies on market delivery of secondary dwellings (granny flats) and boarding houses (called rooming houses in other jurisdictions).

But after nearly a decade of operation, there’s been no official position on what the policy is expected to deliver, or a review of its effectiveness. Given the importance the NSW government placed on affordable housing when it came into office in 2011, this might be considered surprising.

While some have sought to unpack the outcomes indirectly, Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (SSROC) has worked with us to undertake the most comprehensive analysis of the AHSEPP to date, using primary planning data from its 11 member local council areas across central and southern Sydney.

More housing, but not more affordable

At one level, the AHSEPP appears to have delivered some significant results: over 8000 secondary dwellings and over 9000 boarding rooms have been approved since 2009 in this part of Sydney alone. This is a significant amount of development – as new dwellings, this would equate to about one in six of the total dwelling growth in this region between the 2006-2016 intercensal period.

But we found both secondary dwellings and boarding rooms were not markedly more affordable than what is already on the market in southern Sydney. This means that, if the private rental sector has not previously met the needs of some cohorts – as evidenced by the waiting lists for social housing – then the injection of supply through the AHSEPP does not appear to offer a remedy for this market failure. As such, and despite the extent to which the incentives were taken up by developers, it is difficult to claim success in its core objective of stimulating housing affordable for low-income households.

Equally concerning, we found evidence that very few of secondary dwellings were reaching the “formal” rental market, with only one quarter matched to rental tenancies. It appears that the provisions were taken up largely to accommodate informal expansion of the main household – actually fulfilling the true definition of “granny flat”! Similarly, the vast majority of boarding rooms were not rental housing available to everyone. It was clear from the geography, project description and proponent that these provisions were largely being taken up for student housing. A formal student housing option is a better outcome than the more informal ways demand has previously been met. However these new dwellings are hardly “affordable”, with rooms renting for over $400 a week.

So it seems that neither set of provisions were meeting the intentions of the policy: to deliver affordable rental dwellings and take the pressure off social housing wait lists. This highlights how difficult it is for planning incentives and regulatory dismantling to overcome this kind of market failure – that is, to make housing for people on low incomes profitable enough for private investors to deliver it.

Unplanned and uncounted

More broadly, the case of the AHSEPP raises other issues about how effectively the strategic planning accounts for this type of housing supply. Our analysis shows secondary dwellings are overwhelmingly delivered in established suburbs. Yet these areas have been conspicuously ignored as places for new housing by recent strategic planning policies.

This raises questions about the extent to which the population growth here is accompanied by a reciprocal growth in services and infrastructure. The absence of strategic planning for growth in existing suburbs has also established community expectations for little change here, meaning new developments (however merited) are met with strong opposition.

The injection of boarding rooms into areas already over-represented by both smaller dwellings and rental dwellings is also problematic. It suggests the policy is undercutting the objective of other government regulations attempting to deliver diversity in urban renewal contexts, where the challenge is supplying family-friendly housing options to build long-term community stability, not just student dorms.

So what use is planning deregulation?

The most specific conclusion that can be drawn is that this laissez faire approach to planning regulation, in the hope of overcoming previous market failures, has not been successful under the AHSEPP. More broadly, though, it shows how this approach to planning deregulation undermines many of the fundamental benefits of good urban planning – ensuring that the location of future growth is appropriately directed; that diverse and growing populations are effectively provided for; and that local context is considered and communities provided some certainty around anticipated change.

Inclusionary Zoning in Ontario

Posted by on June 25th, 2018 · Affordable housing, Construction, Government, Guest appearance, Housing, Housing supply, International

Image result for ontario affordable housing

By Richard Drdla, Richard Drdla Associates, Toronto, Canada. Earlier this year Richard, an expert on planning for affordable housing in North America, wrote us a guest blog post about the Greater Sydney Commission’s affordable rental housing targets. This post discusses the latest developments regarding inclusionary zoning in Ontario, Canada. Richard is a guest speaker at the 2018 Affordable Housing Conference held this week in Sydney. 


Ontario’s legislation authorizing the use of inclusionary zoning (IZ), the Promoting Affordable Housing Act, 2016, was passed in December 2016.  The implementation of this legislation was subject to regulations from the Minister of Housing.  The first draft of those regulations was released for public review on December 2017.  The final regulations were released in April 2018, at which time they and the legislation came into effect.

Ontario’s regulatory framework represents a singular achievement.  It is the first time that a province or state has authorized  the use of IZ, while also prescribing how IZ might be used by its constituent municipalities.  There is no precedent for this in the US.  IZ programs there have been developed and operated by municipalities without sanction and direction coming from the states.  (The only exception to this is New Jersey, where the state supreme court – and not the state itself – set out the fundamental rules for the use of IZ.)

In developing this regulatory framework, as will be seen, the province struggled principally with how to reconcile two fundamental concerns:  enabling the municipalities to establish productive programs, while also maintaining the continued health of the development industry.  It is too early to know if it has succeeded.


In general, the legislation takes a permissive approach.  It enables municipalities to adopt IZ programs, while not requiring them to do so nor limiting how they can do it.

Despite generally taking this approach, the legislation does contain one notable restriction.  It prohibits  the use of cash-in-lieu payments that would have allowed the developers to buy-out their affordable housing obligation.  While there are legitimate concerns about the use of cash-in-lieu, these could have been addressed through appropriate regulations without making an outright legislative prohibition.

Draft Regulations

In contrast with the legislation, the draft regulations were highly prescriptive, setting out province-wide rules that left little latitude for the municipalities to experiment and respond to local conditions.

The regulations included a number of restrictions that when taken together would have stifled the production of affordable housing.  First of all,  IZ could not be applied to developments of less than 20 units, nor to any rental developments.  Also, the maximum set-aside was limited to 5%, except in “high-density transit-station” areas where the limit was 10%.  All of these regulations are more restrictive than the well-tested best practices being used widely in the US.

On top of these, the regulations introduced another unprecedented and particularly crippling provision.  The municipalities would have been required to provide financial “contributions” (that is, compensation to the developers) amounting to 40% of the price reduction for the affordable units. (This figure changed over time.  For some time before the regulations were released, the developers had been seeking a 50% municipal contribution.  After the release of these regulations and the ensuing backlash, a 20% obligation was briefly floated by the government.)

This municipal contribution had to be made through waivers to parking requirements and to certain fees (planning application fees, parkland fees and development  charges) already being collected from the developers.  The use of density increases was ruled out by the regulations.  Direct financial subsidies were not required or expected, but remained moot.

The problem with this approach was that the prescribed municipal contributions effectively set the price reduction that could have been achieved, and that price reduction (even with just the 20% contribution) would not have been sufficient to provide affordable housing in the more upmarket developments.  Furthermore, achieving even this insufficient price reduction would have depended upon the municipalities fully reallocating monies already being collected for other municipal services and infrastructure improvements.

The regulations did allow the municipalities escape from this obligation when they used the  “community planning permit” system.  This is a form of comprehensive pre-zoning that allows the municipalities after planning, financial testing and public consultations to set affordable housing requirements, density limits and other conditions in specific areas.  But this process is more appropriate for use in small areas rather than across an entire jurisdiction.  As such, it is better used as a supplement to a full IZ program rather than as a substitute for it.

Before adopting IZ, the municipalities would have been required to prepare a “municipal assessment report”  analysing their housing needs and supply, and overall housing affordability.  The intent was to establish a factual foundation and justification for the programs.  It was not meant as a means of testing the viability of the regulations nor assessing their impact on development.


What stands out most in the draft regulations is that they would have been so protective of the development industry. The government had clearly taken note of the developer’s argument that they needed provincial safeguards against the potentially unreasonable demands of the municipalities. This is seen in the restrictive regulations as well as the compensation requirements.

The government had spoken often about finding a “balance” between providing affordable housing and ensuring that development continued, but these regulations manifestly were not that.

The regulations prompted a strong pushback from the affordable housing advocates and the municipalities including particularly the City of Toronto. The Minister was caught flat-footed by the pushback, and had to scramble to re-think the regulations ahead of an impending provincial election.  This led to a remarkable turnaround in a very short period of time.

The pushback was founded principally on three arguments.  The first was that these regulations would have led to the production of very little affordable housing.  The second was that the municipalities were not capable of providing significant compensation, and in any case the need for that compensation was questionable.   Finally, the government should not attempt to impose one-size-fits-all rules across a province that has widely diverse housing conditions.

All of these concerns were addressed to some extent in the final regulations, but it is probably the last that led to the most significant changes.

Final Regulations

In sharp contrast to the earlier regulations, the final regulations give the municipalities an almost free hand in setting the rules and obligations in their IZ policies.  They contain only one notable limitation (and that one is less restrictive than the draft provision).  Under the final regulations, IZ cannot be applied to developments with fewer than 10 (previously 20) units.

But the final regulations also add a new and very significant condition:  before those policies are adopted, they must be analysed for their “potential impacts on the housing market and on the financial viability of development”.

What this analysis will entail remains unclear.  The government has offered no guidance, nor in the  pre-election scramble has it even given much thought to what might be required.   While the regulations do indicate that some form of financial testing will be needed, they notably do not establish what criteria must be used.  Most crucially, they do not say whether or not the  municipalities will be responsible for maintaining the profit margins of the developers or for providing compensation making them “whole” again.


The regulations were fundamentally changed between the draft and final versions.  They went from being very prescriptive to very permissive.  With regard to compensation, they also went from explicitly applying a province-wide standard formula to potentially using a locally-based viability test.

The final regulations longer refer directly to municipal compensation, but this contentious issue is still very much alive.  Whether or not compensation will be necessary, and if so how much, will be the most difficult matter to be addressed in the viability testing.

The new provisions can be seen as  a brilliant political maneuver.  They kicked this contentious issue down the road and past the upcoming election.  By leaving the issue unresolved, both sides – the developers on one and the housing advocates and municipalities on the other – for the moment have reason to be optimistic.

All in all, the final regulations represent a significant improvement and positive development in comparison with the draft regulations.   But there remains the concern that the viability tests will lead to unnecessary and impairing demands being placed upon the  municipalities, and this in turn could force the municipalities to trim their programs.

Does NSW really need to double its social housing output?

Posted by on June 23rd, 2018 · Uncategorized

By: Hal Pawson, Associate Director, CFRC

Homelessness: NSW government ‘must double public housing’ soberly declared the Daily Telegraph’s Saturday headline. This, above a story warning that ‘The NSW government needs to double the amount of social and affordable housing it aims to build to prevent a huge leap in homelessness’ according to ‘experts’. Further, ‘the $1.1 billion earmarked in the Budget need[s] to be bumped up to $3.6 billion to tackle the impending crisis’.

As one of the cited ‘experts’ I wanted to sate any reader’s curiosity about the basis for such lurid claims. Although the prospective ‘huge leap in homelessness’ is correctly not attributed to me, the assertion about the amount of extra taxpayer-funded cash needed to fund the minimum required amount of additional social housing was mine. While avowedly a ‘back of the envelope’ estimate assembled in response to a media query, it does have a logic – as summarised in the table at the bottom of this post. First, the commentary….

The NSW Government expects, at best, to fund the construction of 9,900 additional social and affordable rental homes over the next 10 years. But, just to keep pace with growing need implied by expected rates of population growth, 21,000 additional social and affordable rental homes would be needed.

If it was possible to add 21,000 to the NSW social and affordable rental housing stock over the next decade it would be expected that the current level of ‘unmet housing need’ (e.g. social housing waiting list circa 60,000 households; 38,000 people homeless on Census night, 2016) would remain steady. On current plans, however, with additional provision expected to be less than half the minimum increase in need, we must expect that the number of low income people lacking suitable housing in 10 years from now will be substantially higher than at the moment. A larger housing waiting list, higher numbers of homeless people.

Just keeping pace with growing need will call for the construction of at least 11,100 new social and affordable homes additional to those currently planned and budgeted for by the State Government. Given that the current Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF) initiative is expected to generate 3,400 social and affordable homes over several years, there would be a need to create 3.3 additional initiatives of this size to underpin the construction of that 11,100-home cohort.

Given that the current SAHF is being funded from an endowment of $1.1 billion, this would require an additional investment of $3.6 billion. A large amount, but less than the current annual NSW State Government budget surplus ($3.9 billion) and far below the extra $18.5 billion that Government has reaped from additional stamp duty revenue over the past six years thanks to the property boom.

(a). Additional social housing needed over 10 years (to 2026) to match growing need (population increase) 21,000
(b). Expected additional social/affordable housing to be generated through Communities Plus public housing estate renewal program 6,500
(c) Expected additional social/affordable housing to be generated through Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF) 3,400
(d) Shortfall – according to current plans (a – (b+c)) 11,100
(e) Additional SAHF initiatives needed to fill the gap 3.3
(f) Cost of required additional SAHF initiatives (@ $1.1 billion per fund) – $billion 3.6

For a further explanation of the ‘planned  housing supply’ and ‘projected housing needs’ statistics above see earlier post: NSW is overselling its social housing commitment

The Telegraph’s assertion of a new $1.1 billion social housebuilding pledge in last week’s State Budget was unfortunately a reference to the original 2015 SAHF announcement. In fact, despite the evident need, the Treasurer’s plans included no new funds for such investment.

So, in answer to the opening question, yes – even if the aspiration is only to keep the current high level of housing need from rising higher,  currently planned social housebuilding in NSW should be more than doubled. To be fair to the State Government, the Commonwealth should also be expected to contribute to the heavy lifting here. But, with Scott Morrison also forgoing his recent budget opportunity to do so, there is regrettably little immediate prospect of this.

Higher density and diversity: apartments are Australia at its most multicultural

Posted by on June 19th, 2018 · Demographics, Guest appearance, Housing, Migration, Strata, Sydney
File 20180607 137315 15akpbh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Image: Marcus Jaaske/Shutterstock

By Christina Ho, University of Technology Sydney; Edgar Liu, UNSW, and Hazel Easthope, UNSW. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Increasing numbers of city dwellers live in apartments. This is particularly the case for migrants. And that makes apartment buildings important hubs of multiculturalism in our cities.

However, our recent research shows that researchers and policymakers have largely overlooked the implications of this combination of increasing cultural diversity and increasing housing density.

We live in an environment of increasing cultural diversity. But we also see increasing racism in Australian society, as well as a rise in racialised tension about Chinese property buyers.

These developments suggest we need to pay more attention to how to make apartment buildings work for residents from many different cultural backgrounds.

This is essential to support social cohesion, or the positive social relationships that bond members of society. When social cohesion is weakened, we see a lack of trust and reductions in people’s sense of belonging and their willingness to participate and help others. This, in turn, can damage people’s health and well-being, as well as fuelling broader political instability.

Increasing density

In 2015, we passed an important, but largely unrecognised, milestone in Australia. It was the first year in the country’s history that dwelling starts for attached properties overtook those for detached houses.

Author provided

This should perhaps come as no surprise. State governments have for many years been pushing for more apartments to be built.

Australia is not alone in this regard. Countries around the world have been promoting “compact city” policies that focus on building up rather than building out.

Around Australia, almost one in ten people now live in apartments. However, the proportions are much higher in our major cities.

Across the Greater Sydney metropolitan area, for example, 30% of residents live in apartments. In some inner-city suburbs, apartments are home to the vast majority of residents, including in Pyrmont, Zetland and Ultimo (see Table 1 below). Beachside locations such as Surfers Paradise, Queensland, and Glenelg, South Australia, also have high proportions of apartment residents.

Increasing diversity

Apartment residents are very diverse culturally. Across Australia, more than half of apartment residents – 56%, compared to 33% of all Australian residents – are migrants. Of these, the biggest group (26% of apartment residents) are migrants born in Asia.

Nationwide, only 7% of Australian-born people live in apartments. For those born in northeast Asia (including China), the figure is 31%. And for those born in southern and central Asia (including India), it’s 26%.

Looking again at Greater Sydney, housing density and cultural diversity are clearly correlated. The Sydney suburbs where more than 90% of residents live in apartments also have high concentrations of overseas-born migrants.

Challenges of apartment living

While apartment living is unfamiliar to many Australian-born residents, Australian apartment lifestyles and norms can be even further from what migrants are used to. Our research, based on interviews with Sydney-based strata managers, shows that social and cultural differences can contribute to tensions within apartment buildings. These might be about shoes left in common areas, or washing hung on balconies, or “offensive” cooking smells wafting beyond kitchen walls.

Tensions between residents with different lifestyles are not limited to residents from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds. Tensions also arise between residents of different ages, different household types and with different working schedules. Cultural difference is but one of many factors that can contribute to tensions in apartment buildings.

However, strata managers also commented that sometimes new arrivals’ lack of English and lack of familiarity with Australian regulations had prevented them from fully participating in their building by, for example, joining strata committees or attending or speaking at meetings. Sometimes new arrivals were not even aware of basics such as the need to pay strata levies. Quite possibly that’s a result of strata rules and regulations not having been adequately explained to them.

Australian strata regulations and bylaws reflect a particular understanding of what it means to own or live in an apartment. Obligations and opportunities here – for example, the right to vote on motions at meetings – may look very different in other countries.

Apartment residents, strata committees and strata managers are finding that they need to adapt to the reality of their culturally diverse communities. After all, multiculturalism is about acknowledging and respecting difference.

Fostering cohesion

As we have previously discussed, more inclusive practices – such as translating documents and meeting discussions, conducting audits and surveys of building residents, and providing a range of opportunities for participation – will benefit all residents and owners, regardless of their background.

While multicultural apartment blocks may pose challenges, they also offer opportunities for residents to enjoy the richness of a diverse and cosmopolitan environment. This is one of the enormous attractions of urban life. For many apartment residents, it’s available on an everyday level.

The ConversationWith growing numbers of urban residents living in apartment buildings that are also culturally diverse, more efforts to foster co-operation and understanding are vital for realising the potential of these urban spaces to become productive hubs of everyday multiculturalism in Australia.


Why is it so hard to engage communities in healthy city making?

Posted by on June 14th, 2018 · Cities, Planning, Wellbeing

By Susan Thompson, City Futures Research Centre. This article originally appeared in New Planner – the journal of the New South Wales planning profession – published by the Planning Institute of Australia. For more information, please visit:

Why is it hard to get people from all walks of life and across the age spectrum genuinely involved in planning?  Is there a crisis in community engagement?  Surely the issue of how cities can be supportive of health would be a motivating factor for getting involved?  The epidemic of chronic disease threatens to compromise both our physical abilities to enjoy our lives, as well as our mental capacity to be happy and well.  So why isn’t this a motivating factor?

Is there a problem?

Change is everywhere, particularly in our cities and urban centres.  So why should planners be surprised that this is unsettling for many communities?  The comforting familiarity of home, broadly defined as the dwelling, local street and surrounding neighbourhoods, is threatened by change, particularly when it is ongoing and significant.  This is often blamed for the ‘NIMBY’ response, nearly always judged negatively, when it can be a powerful way of understanding deep-seated fears of residents. Busy lives and the constant flow of information from multiple sources further challenge planners trying to engage communities in decision making.  But it seems surprising that concerns about health and wellbeing are not motivating communities to participate.  Perhaps the healthy built environment connection is not well understood and worries about chronic disease lie dormant until illness actually strikes.

What can be done?

There are examples of community involvement in planning – inspired, either wholly or in part, by concerns for health and wellbeing.  Community led protests can be a sign of care, as well as deep frustration with government decisions and actions.  In Sydney, a current example is the WestConnex motorway project which has enraged affected local groups.  RAW – Rozelle Against WestConnex – is arguing for alternative investments in public transport to encourage walkable and car free cities. Their stance is supported by healthy planning experts who spoke at the most recent Active Living’s FitNSW Forum.

Unexpected disaster can see communities coming together in unprecedented ways, lobbying for health supportive urban planning initiatives.  The earthquake in New Zealand’s Christchurch was the unfortunate catalyst for the creation of urban food gardens across the city, enhancing understandings of food security and resilience.  Community gardens, fruit and nut producing street trees and urban orchards are some of the projects being championed in the post-earthquake city.

Professional practitioner led projects can involve communities in positive, innovative and ongoing ways.  This can occur in placemaking as the recent awards by Place Leaders Asia Pacific attest. Large and small scale projects, as well as exemplary procedural approaches, demonstrate the key role of communities in every aspect of placemaking, including different aspects of health supportive environments.

Governments have a central role too and we are encouraged to see the recent release of the NSW State Infrastructure Strategy 2018-2038. This sets out the government’s infrastructure priorities for the next 20 years.  In the context of current, and increasing, high levels of expenditure on health, the Strategy notes that the built environment can improve health and wellbeing.  Recommendation 99 in the Strategy proposes ‘that the NSW Government increase investment in walking and cycling infrastructure and parks and open spaces as part of the ongoing integration of health into land use planning and transport strategies.’  This will enable communities and local councils to fund and promote healthy active living infrastructure, possibly via their Community Strategic Plans.  These Plans featured in the HBEs September 2016 column, which included information about healthy living and the Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework. The new State Strategy is a further opportunity to pursue funding to translate healthy planning related objectives into local community facilities.

Communities can also be involved in research to enhance urban health.  A particularly exciting and innovative project is UK based ‘Urban Mind’ – a collaboration of academics at King’s College London with landscape architects J&L Gibbons and art foundation Nomad Projects.  Engaging via smart phone technology, individuals utilise an app to record information about their lifestyle, mental wellbeing and experiences of city living. 8  Such projects are critical as cities densify and the public realm increases in importance.  Communities enthusiastically engage as this is part of their daily activities in space.  The opportunity to have a say (that’s easy and personally relevant) about how our environments make us healthy and well is really important to all of us!


Airbnb regulation needs to distinguish between sharing and plain old commercial letting

Posted by on June 6th, 2018 · Airbnb, Cities, Data, Housing, Housing supply, Law, Planning, Sharing, Sydney
File 20180605 175451 1delxiw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Image: paul/Flickr, CC BY

By Laura Crommelin, Chris Martin and Laurence Troy, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Airbnb and other short-term letting websites have been a hot topic of debate for some time. In New South Wales, it seems the state government is on the verge of announcing a new short-term letting policy. Our research suggests about a quarter of Airbnb properties in the city are essentially commercial short-term letting operations.

But as cities like Berlin and Barcelona have learned, regulating these platforms is not always easy.
Enforcing restrictions against individual hosts can be costly. Airbnb has also challenged regulations limiting short-term letting.

At the same time, there has been a lot of hype about platforms like Airbnb as leaders of a new “sharing economy”. This has made some governments wary of interfering with a potentially lucrative economic driver.

How do you tell if it’s sharing or business?

To ensure these new platforms are regulated effectively, it’s important that we understand exactly what they do, and the impacts they’ve having. Despite Airbnb’s efforts to promote itself as being all about sharing, there’s actually a mix of activities happening on its platform. In a new research paper, we examined these different activities, to better identify how Airbnb is being used and whether the platform should be viewed as a “sharing economy” superstar.

Overall, we found that in late 2016, about a quarter of Sydney’s Airbnb listings were best viewed as short-term letting businesses, rather than examples of the sharing economy in action. The figure was greater for other global cities we looked at – 26% in New York, 28% in London and Hong Kong, and a hefty 49% in Paris.

So how did we reach this conclusion? To start, we needed a definition of the “sharing economy”. We took this to mean economic activity involving the sharing of excess capacity in an asset or service, which is driven by a sharing attitude.

We then took a close look at listing data from the five cities and identified two categories of use:

  1. House sharing, which includes advertising part of a house (a private or shared room) or a whole house for a small portion of the year (up to 90 days). These uses suggest that the property is otherwise meeting someone’s permanent housing needs.
  2. Traditional short-term lets, meaning properties permanently offered for short-term rental, thus preventing their use as long-term housing. This includes properties available or booked for more than 90 days per year, and those where the host has multiple listings.

By categorising listings this way, we get a clearer sense of whether Airbnb is really being used to share spare housing capacity, or to run commercial rental accommodation.

Unfortunately, Airbnb keeps tight control over data about the use of its platform. This makes it challenging to quantify these uses.

To get around this, a few organisations have scraped and collated data from Airbnb’s website. While much existing research uses a dataset from Inside Airbnb, our research complements this work by using a dataset produced by the company AirDNA. While neither dataset is perfect, together they provide an increasingly clear picture of Airbnb’s impact.

What did our research find?

Our findings show a significant share of Airbnb hosts are using the platform to engage in economic activity that existed long before Airbnb did – that is, dwellings are used as serviced apartments, B&Bs or holiday rentals. This is commercial activity, not sharing. These properties aren’t just “excess” unused housing space and there’s no “sharing attitude” involved.

While commercial properties are not the majority of listings, other research suggests that this activity nonetheless generates a larger proportion of Airbnb’s income than home-share activity. In many cities this activity is also already subject to planning laws and land-use regulations about “tourist accommodation”. This means these Airbnb listings are potentially in breach of existing laws.

Furthermore, by mapping the Sydney listings we can see that while these traditional short-term lets were only about a quarter of listings, they were overwhelmingly concentrated in suburbs with very tight rental markets.


Author provided


Author provided

Another factor is the rapid growth of Airbnb since late 2016. Australia now has 87% more listings than in late 2016. That’s a lot of properties in popular neighbourhoods that might otherwise be long-term rentals. So not only is this commercial activity not “sharing” at all, it’s also potentially pushing renters into shared living elsewhere, by reducing the amount of available rentals.

What does this mean for regulation?

So where does this leave our regulators? In our view, any policy decision needs to account for the different uses of these platforms, and be particularly focused on the impact of commercial short-term letting. While house sharing also raises concerns – particularly in apartment complexes – it at least fits the “sharing economy” model and arguably provides some of the shared financial, social and environmental benefits sharing economy supporters claim.

At the same time, regulators need to act on the lack of transparency in debates about platforms like Airbnb. Without good data, it will be tough for regulators to target their efforts at the most problematic aspects of new technologies. As we conclude in our research paper:

If Airbnb is genuinely committed to the ideal of ‘sharing’, as it regularly claims, it should share its data with regulators, even if it is not made publicly available. Airbnb’s unwillingness to do so (to date) indicates its sharing rhetoric is more of a sales pitch than a guiding philosophy.