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‘Unlikely bedfellows’ call for Sydney housing reform

By Juliet Helmke
05 September 2023 | 12 minute read
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Looking to shake up the conversation, a new alliance is highlighting issues trickling into the health, education and business sectors due to a lack of available housing.

Called Housing Now!, the group brings together Business NSW, the Health Services Union, the NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, Sydney YIMBY, and the Committee for Sydney think tank.

Together, they’re hoping to raise awareness of some of the less obvious – though certainly significant – ways that the country’s housing shortage is changing the fabric of Australian society, while using its diverse expertise to propose and push for practical as well as yet-untapped solutions.

David Borger, chair of Housing Now! and the executive director of Business Western Sydney who previously served as the NSW housing minister, called the group “an alliance of unlikely bedfellows” that had united under a the common goal of helping the NSW government tackle “a profoundly important challenge of our time – a roof over the heads of every person that calls NSW home”.

Many of the policies they’re pushing for are familiar strategies, such as examining planning systems to reduce approval times, prioritising housing near transport links with existing infrastructure, incentivising councils to encourage development, and ramping up affordable housing.

One of its more unusual proposals includes reintroducing a so-called “pattern book” for housing design that could fast-track building by presenting a set of dwellings that have already been met with some level of approval, depending on the context of the construction.

“Many of the world’s greatest cities were designed using design pattern books – including ours. The Federation houses of Haberfield, the terraces of Paddington, and the art deco apartment buildings of Coogee – all pattern book designs,” the alliance noted.

They are advocating for the introduction of a “modern pattern book with a suite of approved designs by recognised architects developed in partnership with local neighbourhoods,” arguing that such a guide could boost infill development and grow the supply of townhouses, terraces, dual occupancies, and small residential buildings often called the “missing middle” of Australian housing.

It’s why the group has likened the ambitious building targets that NSW has signed on to the equivalent of producing “30 new Surry Hills suburbs” over the next five years – because the state needs to be mindful of producing a diversity of dwellings, while also diversifying the options available in existing neighbourhoods to account for a wide array of different lifestyles.

“Forcing family and friends to live far away from each other because there are no housing options nearby is simply not acceptable in a modern society,” Mr Borger said.

Moreover, Gerard Hayes, secretary of the Health Services Union, highlighted how housing is impacting an already strained healthcare workforce, with medical centre personnel forced to live farther and farther away from where they work to be able to afford housing.

“This is as much a health crisis as it’s a housing crisis,” Mr Hayes said.

“Health workers can no longer afford to live nearby the hospitals – and the communities – they provide essential health services to. That is a bad outcome for patients and their families, and for health workers who have to travel hours to and from work.”

He suggested that some in the industry are leaving the field altogether, finding similarly paying jobs in different fields that are closer to home.

Melissa Neighbour, a spokesperson for Sydney YIMBY and the director and principal planner of Sky Planning, noted that the changes required to address the housing shortage are not only physical and practical, but less material ones of attitude as well.

“I implore people to make a conscious effort to think about the benefits that good medium-density housing can have in our existing neighbourhoods versus the opposite – urban sprawl,” she said.

“When a new housing development is proposed in your street or local area, remember that it’s providing housing for our children, for essential workers, for people to age in place.”

‘Unlikely bedfellows’ call for Sydney housing reform
david borger reb pyepf7
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Juliet Helmke

Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.

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