We can build our way
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.