THE City of Greater Bendigo is looking to unused and underutilised land to help address a growing need for social and affordable housing.
Council’s regional sustainable development manager, Trevor Budge, yesterday told attendees at a forum in Bendigo there were a number of sites in the city that presented opportunities to provide for social and affordable housing needs.
He said the city was working with a number of public and private organisations, including church groups, on opportunities to re-purpose property to create more housing options, particularly near the Bendigo CBD.
“For many people in Bendigo, we have an affordable housing problem,” Mr Budge said.
The council will be seeking to re-imagine Golden Square, as part of a project with backing from the Victorian Planning Authority.
Mr Budge said the council would be exploring opportunities to diversify forms of housing development in the Bendigo suburb, which is dominated by three or four bedroom dwellings.
The local government believes there could be capacity for 2000 – 3000 more people to live in Golden Square, if unused land is re-purposed for social and affordable housing.
Mr Budge expected the project would start within the next few months.
“[Golden Square] is pretty well equipped and only a few kilometres from the city centre,” he said.
He said the local government would also be looking to boost livability by giving local shops ‘a lift’ and turning its attention to employment opportunities within the area.
Yesterday’s forum was intended to inform a social and affordable housing and living strategy, which the Bendigo council is developing.
More than 40 people representing the council and other interested organisation attended the two-hour session at The Capital theatre.
A window of opportunity
Guest speaker Professor Terry Burke, from Swinburne University’s Institute for Social Research said a legislative change had created a platform for local governments to get involved in housing.
He said the Affordable Housing Agreement allowed for councils to negotiate with developers to provide affordable housing as part of projects.
The professor also identified initiatives such as the Social Housing Growth Fund and the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, which could help with projects.
But he said the council would have to build capacity to make the most of the opportunities, including identifying and prioritising which needs groups to target.
Councils would have to enter negotiations with developers, under the Affordable Housing Agreement, with a clear idea of who the affordable housing in that development would serve.
The properties would have to meet the requirements of ‘affordable income ranges’, which were specified for single adults, couples without dependants, and families with one or two parents and dependent children.
For example, councils negotiating with developers for affordable housing suitable for a single adult with a ‘moderate income range’ would need to be mindful of the resident’s annual income, of $29,401 – $44,100.
Professor Burke said the Bendigo council would need to go beyond a policy and devote resources to implementing its strategies.
“If the housing target is 1000 new dwellings per annum, at least 50-60 per annum should be social and affordable housing,” he said.
Social housing amounts for four percent of the dwellings in Australia.
By comparison, social housing comprises 35 per cent of housing in Hong Kong, and 20 per cent in the United Kingdom.
Victoria’s proportion of social housing is comparable with that of the U.S.A, which is also at three per cent.
Professor Burke said 3000 new houses would need to be built, each year, to match population growth.
About 1600 new dwellings would be required, per year, just to keep up with demand.
There were 1394 applications on the Victorian housing register waiting list for the Loddon Region last month – a 15 per cent increase in 12 months.
Of those applications, more than a half – 746 – were listed as ‘priority access’.
Mr Budge said the City of Greater Bendigo was one of a dozen local governments co-funding research led by Professor Andrew Beer, examining the role of local governments in relation to social and affordable housing.
Taking up the challenge
The City of Greater Bendigo has yet to enshrine a role in social and affordable housing in policy.
But Mr Budge said it had already committed to improving livability and inclusive growth in other policies, and was planning on doing so in its economic strategy.
He said there was a need for housing suitable for people on low incomes, close by employment opportunities.
About six percent of households in Greater Bendigo did not have a private vehicle, Mr Budge told the forum’s attendees.
He said access to employment could be challenging for people without private transportation in areas that weren’t serviced by public transport, or within walking distance of work opportunities.
Creating housing near work opportunities would make people less reliant on transport for employment.
Mr Budge said the city was exploring opportunities to create social and affordable housing, with other public and private entities.
“There are very interesting ways in which we can work,” he said.
He said the owners of land in Golden Square were keen to look at different ideas to utilise their properties, including social and affordable housing.
The local government believes there could be potential, long-term, to re-open the train station at Golden Square.
It is also looking to improve opportunities for business, including re-invigorating the shopping centre.
“How can we make Golden Square even more livable for the community there?” Mr Budge said the council was asking itself.
He said part of the picture included creating employment opportunities.
The council is seeking to start work on the project, loosely called ‘re-imagining Golden Square’, in the next couple of months.
Development of Bendigo’s social and affordable housing and living strategy is expected to take a further 12 months, with a discussion paper to be produced as a result of the forum.
Re-thinking unused land
The director of Anglicare Victoria’s St Lukes Region, Francis Lynch, welcomed the council’s intent to utilise land in Golden Square.
He said it was an amazing opportunity to include a range of households in the community of Golden Square.
“There are lots of spare bits of land around,” Mr Lynch said.
The forum attendee was hopeful positive actions would come of the ideas mentioned during yesterday’s two-hour session at The Capital in Bendigo.
“Just the fact the forum has happened is really good,” Mr Lynch said.
He believed affordable housing should be considered as a human rights issue.
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