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Queanbeyan–Palerang Council tackles affordable housing — Bungendore poses challenges

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WORK IS UNDERWAY to develop the first Affordable Housing Strategy for the Queanbeyan Palerang community to address a growing social and economic issue — the lack of housing people can afford.

Councillors recently received a briefing on progress with the strategy from experienced consultants Judith Stubbs and Associates, hired in response to a council resolution of 9 March.

At the 9 March meeting, Greens Cr Katrina Willis said: “There is plenty of new housing being built across Queanbeyan–Palerang but much of it beyond the financial reach of more and more people.

“People in need of crisis accommodation are sent to Goulburn, away from family and support services.

“Older public housing homes are being sold on the basis they are too costly to maintain but the proceeds are not being reinvested in new public housing. Private rental rates are rising faster than wages, government income support and most retiree’s investment returns.

“While this council has relied on the private sector to address this issue in the past, this is not working. We need government to take a more active role to correct market failures.”

The consultants are working with local housing advocates and undertaking research to prepare policy options for council in a draft strategy. This will be released for public feedback before the end of the year.

“This region has a shortage of retail, hospitality and health workers because there is nowhere for them to live.”

Issues may include specific demographic statistics, such as an ageing population needing smaller and more manageable housing. This is a pressure that Bungendore, for example, has felt for some time.

Cr John Preston noted another serious impact: “This region has a shortage of retail, hospitality and health workers because there is nowhere for them to live. There is a shortage of staff at Braidwood hospital that is partly related.” 

Housing affordability featured in last year’s local elections, with progressive candidates pledging action, and more recently at the federal election in May. It is also likely to feature in the NSW election campaign leading up to March 2023. Affordable housing, as the councillors noted, has become an insurmountable problem for many low to moderate income earners while social housing has not been replaced and crisis accommodation is a constant headache for charities and community organisations.

Results of the recent census for the Queanbeyan Palerang LGA  (QPRC) show that the median weekly rent in 2021 was $465, which can be all the income of a very low income earner (someone on a pension or a casual worker, eg a casual cleaner), and nearly half the income of someone on a moderate income. Averaging of rental value in the LGA in the census results may be tempered by Queanbeyan which supports a wider diversity of housing options, so the median rent in Bungendore for example is possibly much higher.

“There are a lot of people in Bungendore couch surfing,” Cr Preston said.

Bungendore, rural township under urban pressure

I will talk about Bungendore because I am familiar with it and because it is now a growing satellite town like many across Australia. The housing boom in Bungendore has been well supported by itinerant or permanent Defence Department workers based at the nearby HQJOC, who pay high rents in the new estates or buy the top range town and rural houses.

Ready wealth has obscured the fact that a lot of young people not connected to a well-paying job need to stay in the region for reasons of social cohesion, seniors wish to do so for the same reason, and there is a shocking lack of one and two bedroom, one bathroom units, studios or boarding house accommodation on the market. Bungendore continues to build five bedroom houses and more recently and belatedly, overly-expensive seniors units.

The push for an Abbeyfield House facility, which caters to independent living for seniors in what is essentially a shared house, had fundraised a lot of money only to be stymied by the controversial state decision to place a high school in a central heritage location and push Abbeyfield out of its promised generous plot of land near the previous Palerang council chambers.

Now Abbeyfield is projected to be placed on a small plot of land between Bungendore Scout Hall and preschool, an aesthetically unappealing and cramped option, made worse by the fact it is now expected it will also be adjacent to a bitumen car park that will grace both sides of Turallo Terrace to service the new school.

Small in scale units at Butmaroo St. Credit A Angel

The housing consultants to QPRC hopefully will advise council to not treat subsidised or affordable housing as a lower-standard of construction option and stipulate that it is built ‘in character’ to the rest of the village while providing maximum amenity for its occupants. This includes adequate green surrounds. An example of an endearing amenity in Bungendore is the tiny cluster of units built in the ‘80s in Butmaroo Street, where the discrete and intimate design make the complex pleasing.

Options for affordable housing

Recommendations made to other councils illustrate some options for QPRC. Council can require developers to devote a proportion of their land to affordable housing projects. Council can rezone land to facilitate affordable housing; it can continue allowing dual occupancies on rural blocks, a permission that was nearly withdrawn a few years ago, presumably to force people to subdivide instead. Some councils also develop their own land for social housing that is managed by community providers, as Shoalhaven City Council recently did.

How the 9 March decision on affordable housing was decided

Following the motion by Cr Willis supported by others to develop an affordable housing strategy, an amendment by Crs Burton and Grundy that sought to postpone the strategy to  next year was voted down and the original motion was carried: For: Crs Biscotti, Burton, Livermore, Preston, Taskovski, Webster, Willis, Wilson and Winchester.  Against: Cr Grundy.

Cr Grundy said she thought that the plan had “tremendous merit”, but it was “fiscally irresponsible”, would displace other items in the budget, and that it was “policy on the run”. 

Acting CEO at the time, Phil Hansen, replied that staff could find funds by postponing work on some new suburban developments — “work on the Bungendore Structure Plan, the Bungendore East Planning development and Elmgrove.” In the end, council hired Judith Stubbs & Associates to research and draft.

IMAGES: Credit A Angel

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