Kamis, 19 Mei 2011

NSW State Govt dumps affordable housing policy

Reported in today's Herald:

THE Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, has called an immediate halt to new development applications made under a controversial policy designed to boost affordable housing for low- and middle-income-earners, and announced amendments to the scheme while a new policy is developed.

We understand the 'controversial' policy to be the Affordable Rental Housing State Environmental Planning Policy (ARHSEPP) - or, at least, those aspects of the ARHSEPP that deal with 'infill affordable rental housing'.

(There's no word in the report or, as yet, on Planning NSW's website as to whether other aspects of the ARHSEPP, such as those dealing with boarding houses, supportive accommodation, or developer contributions to compensate for the loss of affordable housing, have been changed.)

The Herald quotes Minister Hazzard as saying the infill affordable rental housing provision gave ''an avenue for small-time developers to rip into local communities and change [their] entire face''.

We submit that unaffordable housing also rips into local communities, by forcing essential workers like nurses, police officers and teachers to live far away from their places of work, and by forcing out residents who might have deep roots in a community, but not deep pockets.

The Tenants' Union supports the ARHSEPP, but with some pretty heavy reservations. It doesn't - and to be fair, couldn't - address the primary causes of unaffordable housing, which lie in the tax system, rather than the planning system. (It's not as if housing is unaffordable because low-income renters have been too greedy as to the standards required of their bedsits).

But even on its own terms, the ARHSEPP is a policy instrument of marginal usefulness. This is because its approach is basically permissive: it allows certain things to be done that, under the usual rules applied to developments, wouldn't otherwise be allowed to be done, provided they're done to provide affordable rental housing. It doesn't require or mandate that anyone do anything about affordable housing.

If the State Government will not pursue the provision of affordable housing outside the usual rules for developments, it's going to have to do so within the rules. That means mandating substantial quotas of affordable housing for major developments, and requiring all local councils to plan for affordable housing.