THE RISE OF THE BOARDING HOUSE
In 2009, the NSW Government introduced new amendments to legislation around Affordable Rental Housing. Part of that State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) control covered the regulation and definition of what is known as new generation boarding houses.
Since that time there has been significant development and construction of these new types of boarding houses across Sydney, especially in the inner city and inner west. However, that same development enthusiasm has, until now, excluded the outer suburbs.
Hornsby Council has, for the first time since the changes in 2009, three recent development applications before it for boarding houses. One for Castle Hill Road, West Pennant Hills, another at Ray Road, Epping and a third at Northcote Road, Hornsby.
Helen Yao is the principal behind WPH Developments, the company responsible for the Castle Hill Road application. She cites affordable housing as the reason why a boarding house design is her first choice.
“I am not for making money, this a dream. I am not a developer. In China I was a designer, an architect. Some people cannot afford housing or afford to go to a bank. Maybe this is a way we can help,” Yao said.
However, WPH Developments did previously lodge an application for the same lot with only one boarding house and two separate houses. This was refused by council, effectively due to the number of tenements proposed. Her new application is designed to mimic the built form of two houses on a subdivided block.
But the number of houses is not equivalent to a traditional subdivision. The new tenements cannot be individually sold and do not fall under a traditional Strata law as with apartments or units.
And, while the obligations with things such as parking are more relaxed, with boarding houses there are conditions such as onsite managers and regular council inspections that limit developers ability to turn a profit.
Professor Hal Pawson is a director for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute at the University of NSW. He believes part of the problem with the new laws is the terminology used.
“I think the big problem in this debate is the term boarding house. It is describing a place that is a run-down place where the poorest of the poor are living,” said Professor Pawson.
“That is not what is being built in these developments. These are the so called ‘new generation boarding houses’. It would be more accurate to describe them as micro apartment blocks.”
However, a group of concerned residents has recently formed in protest to the Castle Hill Road proposal. They have many concerns with this type of development in their neighbourhood. Chief among them are density, as the proposal for Castle Hill Road will have capacity for 55 residents.
“R2 Zoning [the existing zoning of the area] is in keeping with ‘low density residential’. A ‘boarding house’ would be considered ‘high density low cost housing’ and NOT in line with the other properties in this area,” a resident said in a letter of opposition to the proposal to Hornsby Council.
While Professor Pawson, and other experts in the field, believe the new generation boarding houses are generally a good thing for society and will have a positive impact on housing affordability, he does note the issue of density is a different debate.
“In the inner city suburbs these types of developments are going up in highly desirable areas with existing high density living. Whether the development is being designed around an area that would be out of character, that is a separate topic and you can definitely have a debate about that,” he said.
Helen Yao in front of her property on Castle Hill Road West Pennant Hills Photo: Anthony Brewster