Retired architect JACK KERSHAW defines what he says is the crisis in housing in the ACT and offers some, albeit radical, solutions.
THE housing “industry” is apparently powering on, but telling prospective homeowners:
Look, sorry, forget about housing affordability, along with equitable town planning, local employment opportunities, living amenity, individuality, and a fair go, it’s time to trust us, and do as we say (not as we do) – market forces will iron out any problems for you.
We reject the facts that a place like Canberra is a decentralised city with employment opportunities in well-connected multiple town centres; that home-solar-charged, self-homing electric cars will slash commuting pollution, and parking problems; and that working from home will increase a lot.
We don’t care that the ACT does have plenty of good land to sustainably grow into, and that early planners have arranged that – for instance, by the placing of the Tuggeranong Town Centre on the western edge of the Tuggeranong Valley, where it can also service well-planned expansion across the Murrumbidgee River; and similarly for future Kowen, in the north-east sector of the ACT.
And, who needs backyards, sheds, gardens, trees, a trampoline, privacy, room to expand, bushfire protection, and sunshine, anyway?
So, if you want a new dwelling, you must now take what we dish up, and live cheek-by-jowl in crap flats, noisy townhouses with poor outlooks or pretentious “mansionettes”.
It’s not really our problem that you’ll have a mortgage and rents that will tie you down for life, and that inevitable rising interest rates could send you to the wall.
For too long, governments have trusted the housing “industry” to deliver on affordability and amenity.
The fact is, industry players* have chipped away at all attempts to maintain those essential qualities, and has all but killed them off, in the avaricious pursuit of walk-away profits, on many fronts – while at the same time looking for hand-outs from government to perpetuate this iniquity.
Government land owners, notably the ACT government, must stop playing that dangerous property game, and pretending that “market forces”, and misguided (mostly inflationary) government grants and concessions etcetera will correct current, out-of-control house prices, and ever-sinking living amenity conditions.
Government must be weaned off this illusory property cash cow.
It must encourage alternative sustainable revenue sources, such as renewable energy, R&D, education, cultural pursuits, tourism, and specialised manufacturing.
Above all, government must bite the bullet, and:
- Review its misguided policy of favouring densification, rather than greenfield housing development. Densification has been hijacked by the “industry”, and it is getting away with shoddy, low-grade-amenity development in established areas.
- Resolutely slash its new land prices, back to say publicly ascertainable cost, plus 10 per cent .
- Increase and maintain the supply of land.
- Exclude the private sector from buying up tracts of new land for subdivisions, and only develop new estates itself.
- Discourage large tract housing development on privately owned land (especially that needing fundamental rezoning).
- Sell new blocks, one each, to deed-bonded bona fide owner-occupiers only.
- Increase new block sizes (without necessarily increasing the footprint of new estates – it can be done).
- Utilise steeper land in new estates that would be rejected in current prevalent micro-plot subdivisions.
- Preserve more natural vegetation in new estates, as well as gardens and trees in backyard environments in established suburbs (the latter doesn’t exclude reasonable incremental densification).
- Encourage and de-stigmatise “starter homes” that can readily expand with family growth.
- Get rid of the misguided concept of stipulating a selected number of “affordable” dwellings in larger housing developments (it only encourages low-grade design and construction, stigmatising and disadvantaging the occupiers).
- Insist on the phasing out of negative gearing concessions, and the like.
- Generally improve privacy, safety, amenity, and urban design rules, to benefit occupiers, particularly for multiple-dwelling developments.
- Carry out more public-housing projects itself, through properly commissioned professional design, and competitive tendering.
These changes and improvements for occupiers will have a flow-on effect from new estates into the market for housing in established areas, improving relative affordability and amenity there; and into the rental market generally.
We owe it to future generations to fix this crisis now.
*Including some planners, government land agency officers, bankers, economists, real estate agents, enviro-zealots, developers, project managers, surveyors, civil engineers/contractors, investors, landlords, faux building designers and project/spec builders.
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