Forty randomly selected locals to make up City of Melbourne’s “people’s panel” on affordable housing

Forty randomly selected locals to make up City of Melbourne’s “people’s panel” on affordable housing
David Schout

The City of Melbourne says “now is the time” to create a community panel on the complex issue of affordable housing.

A panel of 40 randomly selected local residents could shape City of Melbourne policies on affordable housing as part of a new “people’s panel”.

The move would see panel members, recruited by an independent recruitment consultant and set to be representative of the municipality, take part in three all-day sessions and provide recommendations that the council would implement “to the maximum extent possible”.

The “Affordable Housing People’s Panel” would consider ideas and deliberate under a “clear and appropriate remit”, which would ask: “How can the City of Melbourne and the community deliver more affordable housing effectively?”

Expected to be endorsed at the September 5 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, the panel would meet for the first time in late October before a final report was produced in December.

It is not clear at this stage how exactly the 40-strong panel would be picked.

A report by council officers and subsequent engagement plan for the panel was due to presented at the meeting (which took place after publication), and argued urgent action was required.

“The current shortage of affordable housing is not the result of a single decision, rather the consequence of long-term underinvestment in the development and maintenance of affordable and social housing,” the report stated.


Responding to this housing crisis … requires innovative solutions, and collective action and support from all levels of society.


The City of Melbourne defines affordable housing as “high-quality rental properties for very low-, low- or moderate-income households, that cost no more than 30 per cent of the household’s gross income”.

In 2019 it estimated there was a shortfall of 6000 affordable homes across the municipality, however that figure was set to grow to 23,200 by 2036.

The engagement plan noted that NIMBYism (not in my backyard) at times held back affordable housing policy.

“There is strong support at all levels of government to partner with developers and the community housing sector to deliver solutions for our community [and] the community agrees as well, with broad support for affordable housing projects within the city.”

“However, this support reduces when communities consider affordable housing options in their own neighbourhoods.”

As a local council, the City of Melbourne do not play a major role in housing policy, however part of the panel’s role includes providing recommendations for what they should be advocating for to the state and federal governments.

The decision to create the panel is being seen as a win by advocates of deliberative democracy, a school of thought that claims political decisions should be the product of fair and reasonable discussion and debate among citizens.

One proponent, Dr Stan Capp – president of CBD residents’ group EastEnders – has for several years argued the City of Melbourne needed to better engage the community in decision-making.

Dr Capp (no relation to Lord Mayor Sally Capp), a former CEO of Southern Health, completed a doctoral thesis in 2001 on public healthcare in which a key focus was on community engagement.

He has previously been critical of a council-established people’s panel for the Queen Victoria Market (QVM), which involved non-impartial parties such as traders, which he argued was “poorly structured and had predictably disappointing outcomes”.

However, he was “extremely positive” about the Affordable Housing People’s Panel, and congratulated those involved in establishing it.

“The paper being presented sets out the issues well and correctly identifies the importance of the question and remit, the need for independent randomly selected panellists and a commitment by the council to include recommendations to the maximum extent possible in future decision making,” he told Southbank News.

As part of the panel process, the council also committed to identifying where it can’t incorporate a recommendation by the 40-strong group and “clearly explain why”.


Dr Capp said this was “good practice”.


He added: “[The panel] will demonstrate a ‘proof of concept’ of an approach that the City of Melbourne should embed in its decision making on matters of significant complexity.”

“The use of this strategy in dealing with the complex issue of affordable housing is an excellent opportunity to utilise this model of deliberative democracy and a well-designed evaluation tool should be adopted to make sure that any learnings are identified and will inform future panels.” •

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