Enabling Affordability: An Interview with Access Housing

Affordable Housing.

I’ve been researching and writing about it for weeks, but what does it really mean; and what can we do to enable better quality housing stock in Perth?

To gain some perspective, I contacted a company who are experts in providing affordable housing for low-income groups in the community.

I spoke with Garry Ellender and Glenn Howe of Access Housing at their office in Fremantle. Garry is the CEO with over 20 years of senior management experience in community housing. Glenn is a Design Manager and has worked on projects in White Gum Valley and Coolbellup.

 

An artist impression of the Coolbellup project. It provided 16 two and three bedroom apartments for low-income tenants. Image via Access Housing Realty.

 

“There is no fixed definition”

When asked about what affordable housing actually means, I was met with the above response. Garry explained that they use an income criteria based on the National Rental Affordability Scheme, however this criteria doesn’t appropriately address overall ‘housing stress’ (rent, insurance, running costs). They use the familiar concept that if someone is paying more than 30% of their gross income on housing, then it is not affordable.

But as with everything, there are levels. Social / public housing at one end to the first home buyer market at the other. Affordability affects a larger range of people than you might expect.

If we, as designers, are going to figure out a better solution to this issue, we need a defined target to aim at.

 

SHAC development at WGV. Image via Access Housing and City of Fremantle.

 

“If you’re out in the boondocks, there are costs for people on low incomes”

We discussed the benefits and issues regarding brownfield or infill sites versus greenfield developments. Access Housing tend not to develop in greenfield areas as the cost per unit is too high for them. Glenn mentioned that it’s the associated costs such as servicing infrastructure, transport to the city and lack of local employment strongly affect the land cost as well as housing stress. As an example, the land price for a 32 apartment complex in Rockingham was around $25k per unit. Compare that to $100 – $150k in a typical greenfield development. 

The suggestion of inclusionary zoning and the provision of plot ratio benefits or density bonuses for them if they were to meet certain affordability targets was also discussed. Developers need incentives to ensure that they can cut down the upfront land and development costs which is passed on to the consumer.

 

SHAC development at WGV. Image via Access Housing and City of Fremantle.

 

“We need to remove the stigma of community housing towers”

The key is good design. Passive climate control and sustainability was an important point for Glenn. By reducing the house’s overall running cost, the financial impact is mitigated and there’s a significant improvement on the spatial quality for the occupant. By providing blended housing, which have a mix of rental units and private owners, this enables Access Housing to provide better quality finishes and spaces to be integrated into the project for all residents.

To start producing more innovative and quality outcomes, they suggested that we need more regulation to be introduced. Apartment design guidelines, such as SEPP 65 in Sydney, work well as they cut out the low quality, poorly designed, cheap housing that is so often seen as “affordable”. Garry’s belief is that the Government needs to take the lead in the market shift away from what we are currently producing. If minimum standards for passive design and living spaces are effectively introduced, developers will hopefully start seeing the benefits of providing smaller and better designs.

 

 

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References:

Ellender, G. and Howe, G. Interviewed by Sami Joer. Monday, 4th September, 2017. Access Housing Head Office, Fremantle.

 

Sami Joer

Sami Joer is a Masters of Architecture student at the University of Western Australia and Graduate Designer at Creative Design and Planning.