Alternative housing models to tackle Sydney’s affordability crisis

Smart homes with eye scanners, pop up shelters in unused buildings and affordable ownership models are some of the innovative ideas shortlisted for the City of Sydney’s housing challenge.

Jurors selected seven entries for new ideas for alternative housing models to increase affordable housing supply across the city and reduce housing stress.

The shortlisted entries were whittled down from around 230 as part of the international challenge, which invited innovative housing ideas in the areas of delivery, financing, management, building, ownership and design.

They include options for the creative use of space, innovative financing arrangements and socially sustainable models that have been successful in other cities.

The challenge saw everyone from property professionals, planners and designers to researchers, property managers and students offer up their ideas. Those shortlisted receive $20 000 to further develop their concept, which could help shape the city’s approach to housing in the future.

“Sydney is grappling with a housing affordability crisis, but we need a diversity of housing to accommodate the diversity of our community,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“The city has assisted in the construction of 835 new affordable housing dwellings since 2004, by collecting levies from developers and selling our land to affordable housing providers at discount rates. This type of affordable housing allows key workers such as teachers, nurses and paramedics to live close to their place of work, improving their wellbeing, shortening travel times and reducing congestion.”

“While this is a proven mechanism, it’s simply not enough. We need to meet the needs of low-income workers, elderly residents and families in our city.”

“In addition to sustained investment in social and affordable housing by state and Federal governments, we need new ideas to increase affordable housing supply, so I’m excited that we received such a diverse array of ideas that we increased the shortlist from six to seven.”

“We’re proud to announce our final shortlist, offering new ideas for alternative and affordable housing solutions to help meet the needs of our community and beyond. We anticipate that the successful projects will be replicable, scalable and provide lessons for future initiatives.”

The seven shortlisted entries are:

  • An equity housing model that provides affordability through innovations in financing and ownership types from Eddie Ma, co-founder of Sydney-based spatial design practice, Vigilanti
  • A smart home that monitors its residents and collects data to offset costs for residents by Joe Colistra and Nilou Vakil in Kansas, principal architects with US firm, in situ Design and instructors at the University of Kansas
  • A metropolitan lands trust policy framework from researcher Dr Louise Crabtree at Western Sydney University and Jason Twill of Urban Apostles, an urban advisory and property development firm specialising in creative city making and alternative housing
  • Temporary pop up shelters which repurpose buildings to provide crisis and transitional accommodation in the short to medium term from founder and director of Housing All Australians, Robert Pradolin
  • A Right Size Service allowing residents to adapt the size and function of their property as their circumstances change from Dr Alysia Bennett, Monash University, Dr Dana Cuff, UCLA’s cityLAB and Monash University and Dr Damian Madigan, University of South Australia
  • The Pixel Project that would establish radically affordable, high amenity dwellings that match more closely the way people live in the city today, from Anita Panov and Andrew Scott at panovscott architects and Alexander Symes of Alexander Symes Architect
  • A cooperative housing model adapting the Zurich ‘non-profit build-to-rent’ model to the Sydney context by associate director at MGS Architects Katherine Sundermann, urban strategist Alexis Kalagas and urban designer Andy Fergus.

Vigilanti co-founder Eddie Ma’s equity housing model explores ways to provide affordable housing to moderate and low income earners through innovations in financing and ownership type.

 The model allows a mix of lifetime leases, affordable and social housing in a flexible rental model.

“Our focus is to deliver affordable, high quality, permanent housing for more people in need,” Mr Ma said.

“Socially minded impact investors could invest in projects with a capped return and offer housing under a leasehold ownership for a lifetime lease agreement, as opposed to perpetual ownership. We believe the equity housing model has great potential to bring relief to the desperate affordability crisis we have on our hands.”

An international entry from Joe Colistra and Nilou Vakil in Kansas offers a prototype for a Sydney smart home. The design shows how digital infrastructure is as important in the housing discussion as bricks and mortar. The concept includes tools that monitor the occupant, collecting and selling the data to offset the costs for residents.

“The ‘Smart Home Sydney’ introduces affordable options while providing amenities and services to thrive at all stages of life,” Mr Colistra said.

“A science fiction scenario of ‘smart cities’ is not as far off as you may believe. The smart home prototype provides a vision of the future and creates lifelong neighbourhoods.”

A submission from researcher Dr Louise Crabtree at Western Sydney University and Urban Apostles’ Founder, Jason Twill, explores community land trusts – private non-profit organisations that hold title to property for perpetual affordability and community benefit.

“We cannot address housing affordability issues in our cities until we address how we relate to and govern land. It’s not a design issue, it’s a land issue,” Dr Crabtree said.

“Community land trusts are non-profit, community-based organisations designed to ensure permanent housing affordability through community stewardship of land. Our proposal considers a Sydney-wide metropolitan community land trust policy where equitable and innovative development models could be enabled and scaled. Addressing the impact of land cost inflation on affordability is core to unlocking an equitable future for Sydney.”

An immediate response to the housing crisis is offered by former general manager of Frasers Property Australia and founder of the not-for-profit Housing All Australians, Robert Pradolin, with his proposal for pop up shelters in unused, vacant buildings. The temporary repurposing of these buildings would be provided at minimal or no cost by the private sector and, in particular, companies involved in the building industry, ensuring the shelter is both habitable and complies with building codes.

“The buildings would be repurposed as short-term transitional and crisis housing,” Mr Pradolin said.

“This is not a long-term solution, but an immediate response by the private sector to a city in crisis. Housing for all, rich or poor, is a fundamental economic platform upon which we can build a successful and prosperous country.”

Dr Alysia Bennett and the Right Size Service team’s proposal would allow residents to adapt the size and function of their property as personal circumstances change.

“The design approach for the proposal is rightsizing through renovation,” Dr Bennett said.

“The Right Size approach incentivises homeowners to create new infill dwellings within existing houses supported by loan and property management approaches. Unlike downsizing, which often involves leaving the family home and suburb you love, a rightsized house is an appropriate scale and cost to suit the needs and circumstances of the household over time.”

The Pixel Project team’s submission explores the idea of pixels located around generous communal areas to create a sense of community. A pixel is a 16-square-metre minimal dwelling – essentially a single private room with an ensuite and storage.

A small pixel would cost around 30 per cent of an average annual income and a group of people would gather to create a pixel project. Pixels could be added, or sold, over a family’s lifecycle as change occurs.

“The essential offering of a Pixel Project is that it provides a form of dwelling that more closely matches the way people live well in the city,” Mr Scott said. “The innovation in spatial and ownership arrangement has the potential to establish a high amenity and sustainable form of housing that meets affordable housing targets without development subsidy.”

The Third Way is a cooperative housing model proposed by Katherine Sundermann, Alexis Kalagas and Andy Fergus based on similar models in Zurich.

The project would be developed and financed through member equity, low-interest loans and commercial mortgages.

“Our proposal is a non-profit model of build to rent housing that has the potential to shape Sydney’s housing supply by providing a ‘third way’ between renting and owning,” Ms Sundermann said. “This would provide greater rental security for residents while locking in below market rent.”

Submissions were considered by an independent jury led by the housing challenge registrar, Stephen Varady.

The City will provide funding to develop the seven shortlisted ideas over the next five months.

Once this development stage is complete, the public will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the shortlisted concepts in November and December.

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