Revealed: Lucy Turnbull’s affordable housing plan for Sydney

Affordable housing will be mandated in new housing developments on rezoned land across Sydney, in a major change to the city’s planning laws poised to be introduced by the state government.

The requirement will be included in six draft ‘district plans’ to be released next month by the Greater Sydney Commission, the new planning agency headed by Lucy Turnbull. The plans mean that when land is rezoned for higher densities, 5-10 per cent of the extra floor space will be slated for low income housing managed by community providers.

The affordable housing targets would apply to land owned both by private property holders and the state government, Fairfax Media has learned. The plans could trigger a backlash from property developers, unless they are given extra incentives to provide the affordable housing. But they are likely to be welcomed by the community housing providers, who lease properties to people on middle to low incomes, although providers and housing advocates may push for more ambitious targets.

Lucy Turnbull, the chief commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission. Photo: Jessica Hromas
Lucy Turnbull, the chief commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission. Photo: Jessica Hromas

A spokeswoman for the Greater Sydney Commission, which has the power to compel councils to follow its plans for a region, would not comment on the content of the district plans before their release.

But the spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the need to increase the supply of affordable housing for low and very low income households.

“We need strategic planning that will achieve this, at the same time as promoting greater overall affordability by increasing housing supply to accommodate our growing population. Getting that balance right is very important.”

The affordable housing created under the so-called inclusionary zoning scheme is intended to be used by people either moving out of government-provided social housing, or those saving to access the private market. The district plans will define very low income households as those earning less than $42,300 a year, which is about half the median Sydney income, and low income households as those earning up to $67,600 per year, which is 80 per cent of the median Sydney income.

The provisions could be in place in time for the development of major government-run housing proposals at Olympic Park, around Rozelle and White Bay, and along the rail line around Central and Redfern.

Towers planned for Sydney Olympic Park. Photo: NSW Department of Planning
Towers planned for Sydney Olympic Park. Photo: NSW Department of Planning

In a sign of the likely reaction from developers, the chief executive officer of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, Stephen Albin, wrote recently that inclusionary zoning without incentives for developers would not work.

Chris Johnson, the chief executive of developer group the Urban Taskforce, this week proposed developers could include affordable homes in new projects if they were allowed to build 20 per cent higher.

There are, however, caveats to the scheme, according to information obtained by Fairfax Media. The scheme would apply only in areas that have been shown to have a need for affordable rental housing, and may be subject to development feasibility.

The district plans released by the commission will be organised around the idea of three cities within Sydney. These are the Eastern City, around Sydney’s established central business district, the Central City, around Parramatta and Olympic Park, and the Western City, around a proposed airport at Badgerys Creek.

The Greater Sydney Commission, under the chief commissioner Ms Turnbull, will consult on the draft district plans through 2017.

New York has recently announced a more ambitious target of up to 50 per cent affordable housing in new projects, though developers in the US have access to tax breaks that are not available in Australia.

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