Councillors compromise on housing strategy

After more than eight years of talking about it, the City of Melbourne has a housing strategy but no one, it appears, is very happy with it.

Councillors debated the strategy in December and settled on a compromise.

  The majority view was that any strategy was better than no strategy at all.

To the proponents of government intervention in the market, the compromise strategy does not go far enough. 

Opponents believe the strategy is flawed in other ways.

Cr Stephen Mayne proposed a compromise – to remove the most contentious matter, that of recommending the mandated inclusion of 15 per cent of “affordable housing” in private developments.

The council has committed itself, however, to a 15 per cent affordable housing component within future developments on its own land.

Despite being successful at council’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting of December 9, the strategy still has its critics.

Planning chair Cr Ken Ong and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle both opposed the adoption of the strategy, preferring instead a deferral until agreement was reached between the Commonwealth and the states on housing funding.

“We are getting ahead of ourselves here.  This will overpromise and under deliver,” Cr Doyle said.

“The end point is a very worthy one, but you have to understand where we sit in the scheme of things,” he said.

“How can you have targets for affordable housing being expressed in percentage terms until you know what the underpinning funding might be from the Commonwealth or the state?” Cr Ong said it was unacceptable for such an important document to be a compromise.

“We should defer it and get it right,” he said.

Cr Ong later said he would ask to have his photo removed from the “welcome” page of the draft document.

Earlier Housing Industry Association assistant director Mike Hermon told councillors the measures proposed within the strategy to increase housing affordability were “largely flawed” and would not solve the issue.

“Affordable housing mixes cannot be manufactured by governments and planning policies,” he said.

Mr Hermon also said mandated standards would make housing more expensive.

This view was not shared by planning academic Prof Roz Hansen, who urged councillors to “bite the bullet” and recommend inclusionary zoning (for affordable housing) for future developments.

“Supply alone will not solve the problem,” she said.

Cr Mayne said it was clear that a strategy which included inclusionary zoning would not be supported by the council.

Removing the contentious item was a “sensible middle ground”, he said.

Seconding Cr Mayne’s motion, Cr Richard Foster said that, while technically a compromise, the amended strategy was still ambitious.

He pointed to overseas examples where local government involvement in social housing was “booming”.

Greens councillors Rohan Leppert and Cathy Oke both said they were disappointed that inclusionary zoning had been removed from the strategy but it was important that the council had a strategy.

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