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Regional Op Ed - Everyone benefits from everyone having a home

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Council involvement in the Victorian Government’s $5.3 billion Big Housing Build is a no-brainer.

If 12,000 new social and affordable homes are to be sited, designed and built over the next four years, then local government will need to be involved.

When this major investment was announced late last year, councils warmly welcomed this decision – it fills a policy vacuum and goes towards reducing rental housing stress, homelessness and a lack of affordable housing for essential workers in many parts of the state.

Councils are well placed to understand where social and affordable housing can be best located and incorporated into new developments. Diverse housing sizes and types can help to accommodate individual housing needs which is necessary to assist everyone to have a home.

It is critical for the success of social housing for it to be integrated into the local housing landscapes of both regional and metro areas of Victoria, avoiding the creation run-down neighbourhoods and entrenched poverty in particular locations.

Many councils have been working with their communities to develop community-focused social and affordable housing strategies over a long period of time. They have consulted with their communities and integrated these plans into their local planning frameworks.

What this means is that when development proposals are presented, councils already have the frameworks and relevant zoning rules in place to determine where social and affordable housing can be best located. Ministers, when using their powers to approve developments, will do well to take these plans into consideration.

In the greater Geelong region, the G21 Region Social Housing Project is creating coordinated Social Housing Plans that address the key issues of these areas. Last year, 13 councils in Melbourne’s south and southeast joined in a unified voice calling for urgent action for more social housing.

More recently, six regional and rural councils have joined with the Victorian Planning Authority to develop a Key and Essential Worker Housing Supply Action Plan.

Careful, consultative and integrated planning of this kind helps make local communities inclusive and supportive of more social housing in their neighbourhood.

Listening and responding to residents is a critical part of the community education process and ultimately helps achieve better developments, both for the social housing residents and for the broader community.

Councils regularly community concerns about housing developments in their local areas.  They are well-placed to understand if there is substance to these objections, and if it makes sense to proceed with a project despite objections.

This unprecedented investment brings will require broad community education, coordinated across both levels of government so that communities are better placed to understand the need for and benefits of social housing.

A key lesson from the long experience of councils is that the best results are gained from productive and transparent partnerships between different levels of government, housing providers, developers, and local communities.

Some elements of this initiative, such as the mooted rate exemption for state owned properties, and removal of local planning approvals, do little to strengthen or support those partnerships.

Councillors and councils are right to call these out, particularly when the aspirations set out in their own local housing strategies are being ignored.

The four years to build the new homes will pass quickly – yet its legacy, if done poorly, will be in communities for decades.  Councils are very aware of the need to grasp the opportunities for a better housing offering in their communities and want to do it in genuine partnership with the state, community housing providers and other developers.

These new dwellings, being built through this infrastructure spend, are going to be with us for a long time. This is a once-in-a-life time chance to get it right.

Warm regards,
Cr David Clark
MAV President

This opinion editorial was published on 10 September 2021 and appeared in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and the Warrnambool Standard.

Link: Big Housing Build