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Affordable housing: The only way is ethics
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16/04/2017 - 9:42 am
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The Nightingale Project ‘Commons’ building in Melbourne has won several architectural awards since its completion in 2013.

Is there anybody in the housing industry who is more interested in doing what it says on their tin – housing people – than making money regardless of the social costs?

While politicians view the twin issues of affordable housing and negative gearing as threats to both their seats and their sanity, public housing projects, which in any sane democracy would be at least part of the answer, are viewed as close to communism in these free market days.

But they shouldn’t be, and I don’t mean housing commission. What if the government provided the land, planning permission or tax breaks to developers in exchange for prices based on cost-plus rather than sky’s-the-limit potential profits?

They could also trade off lower costs with restrictions on investors’ ability to “flip” the property for the first, say, five years, and set the rents at a sensible level, with leases of at least three years.

Would we be living in North Korea?  I don’t think so but it ain’t gonna happen, even if we are already subsidising property developers and investors through the tax system.

However, surely in this clever country of ours we can think of an ethical alternative into which we can put our money and which is exactly where tax breaks should be going.

Actually, there is. The Melbourne-based Nightingale Project is an architect-driven model for apartment block development with affordability and sustainability at its core.

With three projects on the go in the Victorian capital, its aims include capped profits, reduced operating and maintenance costs, removal of extraneous expenses like marketing, covenants on resales to ensure affordability is passed on, and transparent project costs for investors and purchasers.

There’s an interesting article about the Nightingale Project – and resistance to its aims – HERE.

Closer to home,   City of Sydney is offering grants of up to $10 million to affordable and diversity friendly housing projects.

And they have recently received an application for a residential and commercial project based on the Nightingale model from housing co-op provider Common Equity NSW  .

Housing co-ops are a terrific idea. They provide low cost rentals for like-minded tenants who would qualify for social housing anyway. Their rent is 25 percent of their income plus whatever they get in rent assistance form the government.

But there’s a trade-off. They must be prepared to get involved in the running of their schemes, and even decide between applicants for any vacancies.

The problem is there are just over 30 schemes in the whole state and there is no opportunity for private investors to get involved.

Would ordinary investors buy into residential projects where their incomes were more modest but guaranteed and they were denied their spin on the roulette wheel of the property boom?

Maybe. Last year, the Responsible Investment Association of Australia reported that more than $600 billion was invested in ‘ethical’ funds.

So perhaps ethical property investment isn’t just an answer to the affordability problem it represents a huge gap in the market.

Would you invest in ethical property?  Write to or log in to the forum and have your say there.


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16/04/2017 - 11:28 am
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Glenn Wright writes:
One area you have missed is Residential Parks

I have owned and run a park for 12 years now and due to the extreme difficulty dealing with the former CTTT and now NCAT we no longer accept long term residents whether they own their own dwelling or rent park owned accommodation.

You get stuck with bad ones who harass and intimidate other residents, vandalise park property, harass tourists etc and we just can’t get rid of them.

We lose the good residents as they are sick of the situation and the tourists stop coming as they don’t want to be harassed by ferals.

I have now been before the Tribunal in excess of 500 times over the past 12 years and little wonder other parks are refusing new residents as well.

This has been compounded by the Government bringing in new legislation requiring Residential Site Agreements for anyone who stays more than 28 days regardless whether they have a motor home, camper trailer, caravan, caravan soft annex, manufactured home or caravan and hard annex.

The Government wants to totally control our businesses but has no skin in the game so we are forced to protect ourselves and in the process forcing more vulnerable people to the margins of society and homelessness.

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Lady Penelope

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16/04/2017 - 3:13 pm
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Jimmy T – I am a bit confused about the terms (1) ‘co-operative housing’ and (2) ‘co housing’ (communal housing). Both appear to be quite different. Are you able to provide a definition of both? Which type are you advocating for?

Sir Humphrey

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16/04/2017 - 6:23 pm
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Lady Penelope said
Jimmy T – I am a bit confused about the terms (1) ‘co-operative housing’ and (2) ‘co housing’ (communal housing). Both appear to be quite different. Are you able to provide a definition of both? Which type are you advocating for?  

Ditto. The Owners Corp, of which I am part, is a set of townhouses built by a housing co-operative in the mid 1970s. That is, the people who intended to live here commissioned an architect to come up with a plan to meet their requirements as well as complying with planning guidelines. 

Very early on in planning, I understand, there was talk of building at least part of the site as co-housing, with shared kitchens or living areas but private bedrooms. This did not come to pass and the units were built conventionally with the usual complete set of kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, living areas. 

Another housing co-operative, set up at the same time as ours and using the same architect, did build a few units joined to a shared living area but they were mostly separate. Most of the units were conventional. 

Both developments were intended to have substantial shared facilities. Our co-op went bankrupt and did not get the community hall and swimming pool that our twin got. Only in recent years have we been slowly improving our shared facilities. Most recently we have added elegant but simple picnic shelter over a pizza oven and BBQ area next to a playground from the 1980s, recently brought to current standards, and a clay tennis court from the early 80s. We are talking about a community veggie garden in the same area. 

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Lady Penelope said
Jimmy T – I am a bit confused about the terms (1) ‘co-operative housing’ and (2) ‘co housing’ (communal housing). Both appear to be quite different. Are you able to provide a definition of both? Which type are you advocating for?  

Not sure about co-housing but I first encountered co-operative housing in Glasgow  about 40 years ago and I thought it was a way of renters transitioning to home ownership in a kind of rent-to-buy scheme.  It was more like company title in that new residents had to be approved by the incumbents.

As James Brown says in his post, there are many very different models around the world and ours seems to be the least developed in terms of allowing private investment and as a pathway to home ownership.

The NSW model seems to be more about allowing like-minded people who would qualify for housing assistance anyway, band together to make the most of their rented accommodation.

All of this has sent me scurrying off to find out what Housing Co-ops in Scotland do and it seems they provide rented accommodation at rents lower than private rentals but higher than council rents with more responsibility on the tenants and better security of tenure.

I’m not advocating for anything in particular, except a situation where renters and first-time home buyers are treated more like a community and less like a commodity.  

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