A new report by City of Sydney Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore shows how councils can tackle the affordable housing crisis.
Drawing on lessons from London and Paris, this report shows how much more governments and councils can do – and how they can pay for it.
Only 9% of housing in the City of Sydney is affordable, social or public housing. Compare this to London and Paris, which have achieved 25% – 44% affordable housing.
The crisis in housing affordability is an international one. The costs to own or rent a home have risen sharply around the world and in Australia, putting home ownership out of the reach of many. However, the scale of Sydney’s housing crisis has been increasing, even compared toother international cities. Sydney is now the second most expensive city to live in the world.
In recent years, other expensive, international capital cities have responded to the housing crisis with significant reforms to the way they maintain, regulate and build affordable, social and public housing, with Councils playing a leading role.
Cities like London and Paris, amongst others, are demonstrating that it is possible to deliver increases in public, social and affordable housing on a large scale, quickly. The efforts of these global cities to address the housing affordability crisis are on a radically different scale than in Australia.
In July 2023, the Deputy Mayor of the City of Sydney, Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore, travelled to Paris and London and met with the Deputy Mayor for Housing for Paris Council, Clr Ian Brossat, and the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Development for London Council, Clr Tom Copley, as well as local councillors and public housing agencies that are delivering new public, social and affordable housing, to discuss their housing strategies.
This summary report provides a high-level overview of some of the key housing strategies Paris and London Councils are implementing, which are having success. It includes examples of recent projects, with a particular focus on the role of local councils.
Lessons are identified which show how the City of Sydney, local Councils and the NSW and Australian Governments could take much stronger and urgent action to address housing unaffordability.
Lessons from London and Paris
This report identifies seven key lessons to meet the housing challenge from Paris and London to meet the housing challenge here in Sydney. The lessons demonstrate what is possible when all levels of government work together, and local councils play a leading role.
1. Raise expectations. Australia’s targets and requirements are too low. London and Paris show that if you raise expectations, they can be met, when backed up commitments from all levels of government, real public funding, and stronger requirements of private developers.
2. Keep control. There are lots of ways to support affordable housing, but just as many ways for money to leak out of the system. Housing needs to be permanently affordable. Income streams from rent, to the profits from commercial ventures on public land, to the value of land created from rezoning, needs to be captured and used to build more public, social and affordable housing.
3. Buy, don’t just build. London and Paris build new social housing, but they also buy private housing, renovating where necessary and converting it into public and social housing quickly to address urgent need.
4. Affordability is for everyone. Social, public and affordable housing should be available to those on a wider range of incomes. More social housing is more inclusive and more popular, creating the support needed to grow the system sustainably, and more revenue which can be used to create more affordable housing.
5. Tenant control works. London has rules that give existing public tenants the right to say yes or no, over plans to renovate and infill their public housing estates. Requiring governments and developers to win a ballot of tenants has led to better projects for new housing within public housing estates, and the protection of existing local communities.
6. Get creative. Density is much higher in London and Paris than in Sydney. This requires creative solutions to where to build more housing – from identifying disused public buildings, to converting car parks into homes. Good design is at the heart of this. The City of Sydney leads Australia in demanding good design in all housing. Paris and London are leading in delivering affordable housing that is better quality, more sustainable and better designed than private housing.
7. Build capacity. Building the capacity of local councils and public agencies to deliver large-scale affordable, social and public housing takes time and commitment. London and Paris have met their targets, and are projected to achieve more in the future, because they have invested in creating strong public agencies, departments or teams who have the ability and expertise to maintain and deliver new affordable, social and public housing.
City of Sydney Context
In 2022, the City of Sydney Local Government Area, which covers the CBD and inner-city suburbs, included 1% affordable housing & 7.9% social (including public) housing – or 8.9% in total.
This is a decline from previous years. Social (including public) housing in the City of Sydney has declined by around a fifth in ten years – from 9.5% in 2012.
The City of Sydney Council has set a target of 15% affordable and social (including public) housing for the LGA by 2036.
During the 2021/22 financial year, there was a net decrease of 14 social homes, and a net increase of 56 affordable homes.
Around 100 new affordable housing dwellings per year are projected to be built over the next ten years, through the City of Sydney’s existing affordable housing programs.
In the City of Sydney affordable housing is projected to increase modestly from 1% to 2.9% through new housing, and social (including public) housing in the City of Sydney is set to decline further, to 7.5%.
That is, the City of Sydney is projected to achieve 9.4% affordable, social and public housing by 2036.
It is noted that the NSW Government has primary responsibility for housing in NSW.
It has set targets for the delivery of new housing for NSW and local councils – but has not set affordable housing targets.
Where affordable housing targets exist, they have been set by individual local councils through local affordable housing plans.
Note: Councillor Ellsmore’s travel to London and Paris was entirely self-funded.