We can build our way

Mercury (Hobart) - - OPINION - Ho­bart City Coun­cil must lead the way in tackling home­less­ness by open­ing up the CBD for hous­ing de­vel­op­ments, writes

LSi­mon Behrakis

AST week, Ho­bart City Coun­cil took the bold step of declar­ing a hous­ing and home­less­ness emer­gency in our city. It was a re­mark­able mo­ment. Coun­cil meet­ings are of­ten dom­i­nated by ro­bust de­bate by a group of peo­ple pas­sion­ate about the com­mu­nity they rep­re­sent and never afraid to ar­gue their case. Last week was dif­fer­ent though. The hous­ing short­age and the home­less­ness emer­gency is one of the few is­sues that has ev­ery­one on Coun­cil in fu­ri­ous agree­ment.

The coun­cil voted unan­i­mously that some­thing must be done. I was proud to add my voice to that call.

I sus­pect where Coun­cil will dis­agree is the long-term re­sponse.

Ahead of next week’s emer­gency meet­ing, I want to clearly ar­tic­u­late my views on the prob­lem and how we can tackle the chal­lenges be­fore us in the long-term.

So how did we get to the point where we have a hous­ing short­age and a home­less­ness cri­sis?

Ac­cord­ing to Cen­sus data, home­less­ness in­creased by about a third between 2006 and 2016 (the most re­cent Cen­sus). On cen­sus night 2016, there were just over 1600 home­less peo­ple in Tas­ma­nia.

The sit­u­a­tion has be­come much worse over the past three years and there is no doubt that fig­ure would be much higher to­day.

It’s much higher be­cause of the pres­sure on the hous­ing mar­ket and a lack of hous­ing sup­ply.

Dur­ing that pe­riod, Ho­bart’s pop­u­la­tion has grown sig­nif­i­cantly. Between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2018, nearly 3000 peo­ple moved into the Ho­bart mu­nic­i­pal­ity. That is the strong­est growth the Ho­bart City Coun­cil area has seen in years. The prob­lem is, over the same pe­riod, just 1258 new dwellings were ap­proved by Ho­bart City Coun­cil. In 2017-18 alone nearly 900 peo­ple moved into the Ho­bart City Coun­cil area, yet just 188 dwellings were ap­proved.

It isn’t just lower cost hous­ing that is fail­ing to meet de­mand. As more peo­ple come to Ho­bart for busi­ness or work, we have seen more peo­ple on higher in­comes dis­plac­ing those on medium in­comes, due to the lack of “pre­mium” hous­ing. This knock-on ef­fect has worked its way down ev­ery price point to the point where we now have “work­ing home­less” — peo­ple who are work­ing full-time and can’t af­ford a place to live. The long-term so­lu­tion to solve this crunch is more af­ford­able hous­ing, but also a greater sup­ply of hous­ing more broadly, at ev­ery price point.

It doesn’t take a ge­nius to work out we have a sup­ply and de­mand prob­lem. Like it or not, peo­ple want to live in Ho­bart. They want to work here. They want to en­joy the life­style here. They want to raise their fam­i­lies here. We should be em­brac­ing that. By in­creas­ing hous­ing sup­ply by un­lock­ing the enor­mous un­tapped po­ten­tial for apart­ment de­vel­op­ments in the CBD, we can in­crease the sup­ply of hous­ing. By en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple to move from the sub­urbs into the CBD we can help re­duce the rental squeeze and take the pres­sure off the hous­ing sys­tem. Open­ing up the CBD for in­creased hous­ing sup­ply would also go a long way to re­duc­ing peak hour traf­fic in and around Ho­bart.

Of course, let’s pro­tect what makes Ho­bart so spe­cial and such an appealing place to live in the first place, but we need to ap­proach the chal­lenge of in­creas­ing hous­ing sup­ply with a bit of com­mon sense rather than cut­ting off our nose to spite our face.

We shouldn’t ex­pect the tax­payer to foot the bill for in­creas­ing hous­ing sup­ply ei­ther. Yes, there is a place for the State Gov­ern­ment to in­vest in sen­si­ble, af­ford­able hous­ing op­tions. The way that the State Gov­ern­ment has de­vel­oped af­ford­able hous­ing op­tions right across the Ho­bart City Coun­cil area over the past decade is a model that should con­tinue.

How­ever, most of the work to in­crease hous­ing sup­ply should be left to the pri­vate sec­tor. We as a coun­cil and as a com­mu­nity should be work­ing with the pri­vate sec­tor to de­velop hous­ing sup­ply op­tions in the CBD. But for this to work, there has to be reg­u­la­tory cer­tainty from Coun­cil and also an ex­pec­ta­tion that de­vel­op­ments will be worth­while in­vest­ments.

There is a need for a cul­tural shift in the way Coun­cil looks at devel­op­ment, and de­vel­op­ers.

Far too many times in Coun­cil have I heard the word “de­vel­oper” be­ing used as a pe­jo­ra­tive term. We should be lis­ten­ing to the pri­vate sec­tor and work­ing with them, rather than try­ing to lec­ture them or take the big stick to them.

I will be at­tend­ing next week’s meet­ing and look­ing for­ward to dis­cussing how to tackle this is­sues in the short-term and the long-term. I’m very in­ter­ested in what the com­mu­nity sec­tor has to say and how Coun­cil can play its part in co­or­di­nat­ing so­lu­tions.

I’m also look­ing for­ward to en­sur­ing de­vel­op­ers have a voice at the meet­ing be­cause we need ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity work­ing to­gether on this is­sue. We can lit­er­ally build our way out of this sit­u­a­tion, but only if Coun­cil is pre­pared to work with de­vel­op­ers and in­vestors. Si­mon Behrakis is an al­der­man on Ho­bart City Coun­cil.

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