Fishermans Bend key in affordable housing blitz

By David Schout

Urban renewal in Fishermans Bend represents a “significant opportunity” to build large scale social and affordable housing in the next 10 years, according to the City of Melbourne.

Along with Arden, the council argued these areas had “the capacity to achieve more” than the state-endorsed target of at least six per cent of affordable housing.

The recommendation was part of the council’s submission to the Victorian Government’s 10-year strategy for social and affordable housing in Victoria, expected to be released later this year.

This strategy is set to underpin a record multi-billion-dollar investment in these categories of housing across the state.

The council’s recommendation stated that Fishermans Bend, Australia’s largest urban renewal project neighbouring Docklands, was one of the “ideal locations for significant affordable housing construction”.

“The timing is right for social and affordable housing development in our urban renewal precincts,” it said.

“The urban renewal process, which is underway in Arden, Macaulay and Fishermans Bend precincts, is a timely opportunity for at scale development of new housing. Rezoning and government investment in these areas is creating major opportunities for value capture that can be directed toward affordable housing and delivered by private industry.”

The state government’s Fishermans Bend Framework aimed to ensure at least six per cent of housing in the urban renewal area would be affordable.

However, the council believed that target should be more ambitious. “These areas have the capacity to achieve more,” it said.

In other key points the City of Melbourne suggested that, as a result of higher residential vacancy rates within Docklands and the CBD in the wake of COVID-19, the state government purchase vacant properties in major residential developments.

“The vacancies offer a rare opportunity … to purchase properties outright to rapidly house people who need social and affordable housing … purchasing properties outright has a range of benefits: rapid increase of housing supply in well-located areas, transferring dwellings from investors that may be loss-making, and improving the city’s community and economy.”

Push for council recognition

In November 2020, the state government announced a historic $5.3 billion “Big Housing Build” to construct more than 12,000 new social and affordable homes throughout metro and regional Victoria.

The commitment was the state’s (and the nation’s) biggest ever investment in the space and, according to homelessness groups, was well overdue.

At the time, the government announced that a new agency, Homes Victoria, would deliver the record housing growth and manage existing public housing.

The CEO of the new agency is former City of Melbourne CEO Ben Rimmer.

In its submission to Homes Victoria’s 10-year strategy, the council made no secret of its desire to be made a key part of the government’s housing blitz.

Citing its central location, access to jobs and existing support services and community infrastructure, the council’s first recommendation was to be brought closely into the fold.

“We seek recognition as a priority delivery partner,” it said.

It proposed a new entity, “Homes Melbourne”, was set up to work in partnership with Homes Victoria.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp underlined the importance of collaboration in the coming years.

“This submission reflects our ability to create a game-changing, city-shaping, but most importantly life-transforming set of policies and actions in the city of Melbourne for Melburnians ,” she said. “What we see now is a coalition of the willing, the able and now well-resourced group of organisations, led by the state government and its decision to properly fund a significant delivery of much-needed affordable and social housing.”

Cr Rohan Leppert said the council’s intervention into the policy space was “incredibly important” and would be “one of the most things we’re going to do” in this term.

Push for specialist rough sleeper service

The City of Melbourne has proposed a new “specialist” support service for rough sleepers in the CBD and surrounds such as Southbank.

The site would act as both a housing referral and health support service to assist those sleeping rough within the central city, and would be open “up to 24/7”.

The recommendation was part of the council’s submission to the Victorian Government’s 10-year strategy for social and affordable housing in Victoria, expected to be released later this year.

The council said the development would cost between $1.5 and $5 million (depending on the site selected) and has proposed the government make a “capital contribution”.

The proposed service centre would also manage the City of Melbourne’s “by name list”, a shared database of the names and information of current and recent rough sleepers in the municipality.

Rough sleepers are those living on the streets, sleeping in parks, or squatting in derelict buildings for temporary shelter, and are seen as some of the most vulnerable people in society.

A significant percentage of Victoria’s rough sleepers stay within the CBD and Southbank.

Many were offered emergency hotel accommodation at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Melbourne.

According to the council, around 720 people remain in emergency accommodation, but it understands the funding program will end in June.

“As the end of the program approaches, more people have returned to rough sleeping. It is essential that a long-term solution is found to address the needs of these people,” the council submission states.

There are existing rough sleeper support services within the CBD, however it is understood this council-government initiative — if approved — would be more extensive and open for longer hours.

City to champion affordable housing at State Council

Affordable housing will be one of three key priorities submitted by the City of Melbourne when the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) meets for its state council meeting on May 21 at Melbourne Town Hall.

The City of Melbourne’s representative and MAV deputy metro president Cr Rohan Leppert told the April 20 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting that affordable housing would be one of “three concise and very important motions” put forward.

The other two motions were also planning related, focusing on planning scheme amendments and environmentally sustainable building design.

“One is on the provision of affordable housing – this is a hot issue at the moment,” Cr Leppert said.

“Another is a motion calling on the recognition of the council-initiated planning scheme amendments that are economic enablers and this is very important as councils have planning scheme amendments across the state that are there to provide certainty and to lift economic opportunities. But if the state only views council schemes as inhibitors rather than enablers we have a little bit of an impasse. We need to unlock this impasse.”

“And thirdly the roadmap to environmentally sustainable design. We can’t only leave these matters to national building codes.” •

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