By Sarah MacNamara, Council Journalist

In a housing and cost of living crisis that has caused rates of homelessness and housing insecurity to soar, councils across the nation are doing their best to ease housing pressures for their communities with housing initiatives and projects, even when faced with limited funding.

The annual Report on Government Services, released in January by the Productivity Commission, has revealed a sharp spike in demand for housing and homelessness services. This is in addition to a variety of bleak statistics from 2023–2024 that reveal a surge in the number of people who were sleeping rough before accessing housing services, and a jump in the number of people who exited homelessness support into rough sleeping.

The housing crisis has been widely recognised by federal and state governments with a variety of initiatives and reforms, including the National Housing and Homelessness Plan by the Australian Government and state reforms such as Homes NSW, which will see the state’s public housing transformed.

While federal and state governments are primarily responsible for the funding and delivery of housing across Australia, all levels of government contribute to the provision of safe and affordable housing. Councils are the closest level of government to communities, and as such are uniquely positioned to know and understand their needs.

In August 2023, the Federal Government announced it would contribute $500 million in funding to support local councils in addressing the affordable housing crisis facing the nation. As the cost of living continues to rise and many Australians struggle with housing, more and more councils across the country are engaging in housing initiatives specifically targeted to their communities’ needs to lighten the burden.

Increasing supply

As a first step, many councils across the country are focusing on projects that increase supply. In November 2023, the Hornsby Shire Council in New South Wales committed to building 4,900 new dwellings to meet the mandated dwelling targets set by the State Government.

The commitment is part of the Hornsby Town Centre Masterplan, in which the Town Centre skyline will be redefined with slender residential towers clustered around the train station and mall, varying in height up to 36 storeys. Also in New South Wales, the Tolland Estate in Wagga Wagga will deliver a mix of social, affordable and private housing with its proposed 500 new homes to meet the critical housing needs in the area.

Wagga Wagga City Council has worked closely with the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) in the development of a draft masterplan for the project, which includes 200 social and affordable homes. In Tasmania, the Hobart City Council has partnered with state and federal governments in a project to revitalise the Macquarie Point precinct, with housing planned to be a central part of the precinct.

A public-private partnership will see Regatta Point developed with a variety of waterfront housing, including affordable homes as well as housing for essential health workers and veterans. Toowoomba Regional Council announced in 2022 that it will combat the shortage of rental accommodation in the region by providing social and affordable housing in the city centre.

Council will collaborate with a not-for-profit community housing provider in the development of the multi-storey development to support its residents as the region battles with low vacancy rates.

Transitional supported accommodation

With an alarming number of residents experiencing or at risk of homelessness, the City of Melbourne partnered with the State Government, Unison Housing and the philanthropic and corporate sectors to create safe and secure transitional housing for those most in need, right in the heart of the CBD.

The Make Room project will repurpose a Council-owned building on Little Bourke Street, delivering 50 studio apartments and a number of other housing and homelessness services in addition to other wrap around support for vulnerable people in the state.

Residents will be able to stay for twelve months, or until they can find long-term, secure housing. Each apartment will include a bedroom, kitchenette and ensuite bathroom. There will also be a number of communal spaces to bring residents together, such as a rooftop garden.

Estimated to be completed by mid-2024, Make Room will also offer care and support services on-site, including specialist health, housing and support staff.

Council-developed housing projects

In 2021, the Pyrenees Shire Council in Victoria completed a $6 million housing development to meet the needs of its growing population. After little interest from housing developers to invest in the Beaufort area, 50km west of Ballarat, the Council purchased a large parcel of land to develop itself to ensure it was able to provide adequate housing.

The Correa Park Residential Development delivered 100 houses in stages over a span of seven years, with block sizes ranging from 700 to 1,100 square metres. The lots were very popular with both new and existing residents and sold out quickly, with Pyrenees Shire Council able to recoup all of the money it invested through the sales.

The success of Correa Park Residential Development has inspired another housing project, with Council purchasing a second plot of land in Beaufort within walking distance of the town’s train station for a second development. Pyrenees Shire Council intends to subdivide the land into 20 to 30 lots between 300 and 700 square metres in size to provide further housing for its community.

The Beaufort development has inspired other rural communities, and was featured in Rural Councils Victoria’s Housing Action Plan as an example of what is possible in rural and regional Victoria.

Housing solutions specific to community needs

In January 2024, the Queensland Government announced that it would partner with the Goondiwindi Regional Council to redevelop a vacant aged care facility in Inglewood to support older residents. As part of Queensland’s Housing Investment Fund, the project will deliver five affordable homes for seniors who are still able to enjoy supported independent living and wish to remain in their community.

The project will be jointly funded by the State Government and Goondiwindi Regional Council. The homes will be fully accessible, modern and energy efficient, with work set to commence in mid-2024 and tenants to move in during the first half of 2025. In New South Wales, the State Government announced in January 2024 that it would work with four local councils in a flood recovery housing program to support communities whose housing was affected.

The $40 million program will engage with communities through information sessions, workshops and online communication tools, with the assistance of the councils, to build a shared understanding of risk in the region. The program is expected to offer a range of products such as raisings and retrofits to flood-proof existing dwellings, as well as buybacks and relocations.

Rent-to-own program

To address the critical need for affordable home ownership in its municipality, the Wollongong City Council awarded a $5 million tender for a rent-to-buy homeownership pathway program as part of the Wollongong Housing Strategy in August 2023.

The program will fund Equity+, an affordable rent-to-buy pathway in which residents of affordable rental housing can apply to purchase their rental property. It will also fund an enhanced empowerment service whereby community members will be able to access financial guidance and support to increase their financial capability through supported savings education plans.

Councils join forces in the name of regional housing

In October 2023, ten regional Victorian councils collaborated to jointly fund and appoint a dedicated regional housing officer,
as they lacked appropriate staff to cope with the worsening housing crisis.

Councillors in the ten municipalities of the Loddon Mallee region in Victoria’s north-west commissioned a report investigating the region’s critical housing needs, with funding from the Victorian Government’s Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions.

The findings were compiled in the Loddon Mallee Housing Action Plan and identified poor strategic planning, a lack of housing diversity, and bureaucratic hurdles as the key housing challenges in the region. Additionally, they identified potential strategies, including the creation of a dedicated regional housing officer role.

The trial position will require $150,000 in funding for 12 months, which will be shared between the Regional Development Australia Loddon Mallee Committee and its associated councils.

Supporting housing solutions into the future

The housing and cost of living crisis has significantly increased the rates of homelessness and housing insecurity, and will require a coordinated and collaborative approach across all levels of government. In August 2023, the Federal Government announced $500 million in funding to support local councils in addressing the housing challenges in their municipalities.

Though they are not primarily responsible for providing housing, councils across Australia have long supported their communities by investing in innovative housing solutions to increase supply and target specific housing needs in their regions.

Councils will continue to play a crucial role in addressing the housing crisis now and into the future due to their proximity to their communities and the knowledge they are able to share about their unique and specific housing needs.

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