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Home sweet home

An influx of newcomers to the Sunshine Coast has created an unprecedented homelessness and housing affordability crises. My Weekly Preview looks at what is being done.

Four years of solid work, ups and downs, fears and joys melted into a moment of elation for a Maleny community group last December. CHASM (Compassionate Housing Affordability Solutions Maleny)members finally saw their Small House Project come to fruition, with tenants moving into a home fundraised for and built, according to the Maleny housing group’s plans.

CHASM co-founder and project co-ordinator Marg McKenzie says phase one of the Small House Project included this pilot project, built in Maleny’s community garden on Bicentenary Lane. Phase two planned the building of a further nine small houses. While they will not continue with phase two of the project, Ms McKenzie says they now have a demonstration model.

“From here we are able and happy to participate as a group and share all the learnings and insights that came with completing a home, with other groups.”

That’s one house with a long-term rental agreement for one couple in the midst of an affordable housing crisis on the Sunshine Coast.

A recent influx of people moving to the COVID-safe Sunshine Coast has seen a lift in property prices. As always, there are winners and losers, as real estate is bought and sold, rental properties are taken off the market and investors move in or new owners up the rent. The result is less rental housing, soaring rents and people without a place to call home.

Charities report record numbers requesting housing help and it’s not just about money. Agencies also report that working people are simply unable to rent a home, because there is not enough rental stock available.

In recognition of the crisis, on February 17 Sunshine Coast Council held a homelessness forum hosted by Mayor Mark Jamieson at Venue 114, Bokarina. Key government agencies, church groups  and community organisations attended.

The meeting examined the Sunshine Coast’s homelessness response during COVID-19, the emerging housing crisis as well as place-based responses to address rough sleeping in our community, crisis options needed in our region and ongoing advocacy work required.

Sunshinecoastnews.com.au reported that a range of innovative overnight accommodation solutions such as use of carparks and buses modified with sleeping pods were mooted.

A key outcome of the meeting was to progress three regional advocacy opportunities:

  • the exploration of opportunities with the State Government to enable the new Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme to require social and affordable housing as a condition of development and remove inhibitors in the planning system to housing diversity
  • engage local business leaders, commercial property owners, private sector stakeholders and philanthropists with an aim to drive investment into crisis accommodation and shelter options
  • advocate to the Federal and State Government for a funded assertive outreach service for people rough sleeping in public spaces and other locations. This is to proactively initiate face-to-face contact, provide access, assessment and appropriate referrals.

The Sunshine Coast Housing and Homelessness Directory is a pocket-sized guide containing details for organisations that are providing services for the homeless or those at risk.

The Sunshine Coast Council has also worked collaboratively with the State Government, IFYS Ltd and the University of the Sunshine Coast to undertake a research project which involves an evaluation of the Sunshine Coast COVID-19 Housing Crisis Response and examination of homelessness on the Coast.

 

Sunshine coast affordable housing providers

Lee Banfield – chief operating officer Coast2Bay Housing Group

On the Sunshine Coast, Coast2Bay Housing Group delivers both community and affordable housing programs to the Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay regions. The Coast2Bay portfolio includes nearly 500 dwellings. Their main aim is to make available viable housing to the people who need it.

For instance, one of their properties is a two-storey, Nambour home. The home has nine bedrooms and share facilities such as a kitchen. It is rented out to women, specifically those over 55, who account for the fastest growing homeless group in Australia, for $175 per week inclusive of electricity, water and internet. Purpose Real Estate (a branch of Coast2Bay Housing) manages the property.

Purpose Real Estate housing manager Lindell Gittoes says this accommodation style has proved very successful.

“It’s been in operation for a few years, and especially over COVID the women really supported and helped each other out.”

Homes placed in the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) by their owners are also managed by Purpose Real Estate. The NRAS scheme is an Australian Government scheme with state governments who issue financial incentives to organisations (property owners) that provide people on low to moderate incomes with an opportunity to rent homes at a rate that is at least 20 per cent below market value rent. NRAS homes are not social housing – they are affordable private rental homes. It was started in 2008 and ended in 2014/15. NRAS still covers current housing leases, many beginning to end now.

This month Coast2Bay housing COO Lee Banfield says the organisation saw the first of their NRAS properties (which total approximately 45) handed back to the owner and subsequently sold.

“This is the first of many properties[as leases end] that will go over the next two to three years,” Ms Banfield says.

At this point, she is not certain how they will be replaced and is urging the government to review the scheme.

 

Queensland Government Build-to-Rent Scheme

In Brisbane, the Queensland Government has attracted big developers to their Build-to-Rent scheme. The multi-million-dollar  scheme was revealed by the Queensland Government in December 2018, to partner with the private sector in delivering low-rental homes in high-rental areas, like inner-Brisbane.

Since then, the Queensland Government has approved two Brisbane-based affordable housing projects by developers: Frasers Property at 210 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley and Mirvac at 60 Skyring Terrace, Newstead. Combined, these properties will offer almost 750 apartments in total with up to 240 dwellings to be provided at a discounted rent. Construction is anticipated to commence this year, with tenants to access the housing in late 2023.

Mirvac has lodged plans with the Brisbane City Council to build 395 mostly studio or one-bedroom apartments on the site (60 more than what was originally approved), fewer car parks and over 500 bicycle parking spaces.

The Government is embracing the Build-to-Rent model as a means of increasing the supply of affordable housing in southeast Queensland.

A spokesperson from Queensland Treasury says there are no such projects at this stage on the Sunshine Coast. The Brisbane projects are of a size that make it economically feasible for developers to include the affordable housing element.

Such development generates long-term rental income for developers, rather than up-front sales or capital growth, thereby driving incentives for an increased focus on residential tenants.

 

A short history of affordable housing schemes

While charities are describing the current housing crisis as the worst they have ever seen, it is not a new issue on the Coast, or indeed anywhere in Australia. It’s a problem rarely off the political agenda and one that over the years, various government and relevant associations have sought to tackle through a diverse range of well-meaning, though not always successful programs.

From 1912-1918, several state governments established various financial schemes focused on making home ownership more attainable for more of the working class. In addition, the Commonwealth government established the War Service Homes Scheme in 1919.

The Commonwealth Housing Commission was established in 1943 and in 1945 Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA) allowed the states to establish and operate public housing as funded by the Commonwealth via cheap loans. Under the first CSHA which was in place from 1945 to 1956, public housing stock nationwide rose from next to zero to 96,292 dwellings.

In 1956, a new CSHA was severely reduced and allowed the selling of public housing via any means they saw fit, and private home ownership was encouraged. From 1956 onwards, roughly 90,000 public housing dwellings built under the CSHA were sold across Australia.  Since the 1980s, governments have continued to provide varying amounts for first-home deposits.

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