11 September 2020

As social housing projects roll out, beware an attack of the NIMBYs

| Ian Bushnell
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Sod turning for Common Ground in Dickson

Housing Minister Yvette Berry at the sod-turning ceremony for Common Ground in Dickson. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

If there is one thing that Canberrans love, it’s a good planning stoush.

And in a town full of public servants with all the skills required to compile submissions, launch petitions and engage with government and the media, campaigns against development proposals can be marshalled and organised more efficiently than in most other jurisdictions.

Objectors may still be outgunned by the big developers and the bureaucracy, but they still give government and proponents a run for their money.

That is a good thing, and many a bad development has been improved if not rejected thanks to the tireless efforts of community activists who believe passionately in the national capital’s mission, and as a special place in which to live.

Yet there are signs that the perfect plan is becoming the enemy of the public good, as the Barr Government’s urban renewal program gathers pace, including the rebuild of the city’s public housing stock.

READ ALSO Gentleman calls in Common Ground Dickson

The Chief Minister constantly reminds us this is a 10-year, $1 billion program, although some say the government is only playing catch-up and it will still not deliver sufficient properties.

Like other cities, more affordable housing for those in work but struggling or locked out of the private rental market is also required and the government is moving to provide incentives so more of this type of housing can be built, while also calling for the Commonwealth to come to the party, particularly as part of the post-COVID-19 recovery.

This requires land, and this is where we are seeing friction in neighbourhoods across the city, and no doubt will see more as time goes on as the government is identifying sites in existing suburbs as well as new ones to re-house public tenants and build supported accommodation, particularly for older women.

The Chapman housing project on Darwinia Terrace

The Chapman housing project on Darwinia Terrace was completed late last year. Photo: File.

Whether it be in Chapman or Ainslie, some residents are worried about the loss of green space, density, traffic, bad design, and on the city’s edges, bushfire risk.

In fact, a whole range of typical Canberra development touchpoints, but there are also less overt fears about crime, neighbours from hell and effects on property values.

Most are quick to agree that they’re not opposed to public or social housing per se, just not in our street or a particular location.

The Common Ground project in Dickson met opposition due to its location, its multi-storey design and a desire for an integrated plan for Section 72 as a community use precinct.

Those concerns may be well-intentioned and government could do much better in its planning but people, and these will be women and children, need roofs over their heads.

READ ALSO YWCA Canberra sets record straight on Ainslie accommodation plans

Another proposal in nearby Ainslie on a YWCA Canberra-leased site will also provide housing for older women, who are most in need of help. Claims from some of the residents opposing the 10-unit development have gone over the top, and they should be happy with the concessions they have managed to win.

In Chapman, residents mounted a fierce campaign to stop a low-rise housing development and many months since its completion the sky has not fallen in.

Canberra’s home-owners have benefited enormously from the housing boom, racking up massive capital gains that have priced many others out of the market.

Nobody wants people living in cars or on the streets so unless we put the city’s battlers out of sight somewhere, Canberrans will have to share their neighbourhoods.

It doesn’t mean accepting bad planning or development, or the government steamrolling over communities but we should be wary of an attack of the NIMBYs delaying or stopping projects that will have a public benefit.

We should not shed any tears about the pulling down of what Greens leader Shane Rattenbury called ”old, cold and damp” public housing that needed to go, but be vigilant that the replacement is better and contributes to a diverse and equitable national capital.

Just because you have done well in your desirable, well-serviced suburb doesn’t mean others less fortunate don’t have a right to live there too.

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Why do we keep building ghettos as a solution to social housing? Regardless of whether it’s low income families, older women or men, etc, hiding people away in “communities” and “complexes” by category condemns people on all sides to the familiar and comfortable. If Canberra is ever going to develop a sense of community, public housing needs to be out in the community at large, next door, in every street, unnoticed and indistinguishable in plain sight.

ChrisinTurner5:48 pm 17 Sep 20

The government demolished 440 public housing apartments in the ABC Flats. Most were two-bedroom and air-conditioned. Where are the replacements that Shane Rattenbury says have already been built? On the old site there is no new public housing, only mostly one-bedroom luxury apartments.

OK Ian. You’ve got me. While I’m not a NIMBY, I am a NIMP – Not In My Park.

George Watling8:33 pm 15 Sep 20

There should be no building of affordable housing on open spaces and parklands. There are plenty of newly built properties on the market in Canberra that could purchased for social housing. According to the Urban Development Institute of Australia 2,413 new multiunit dwellings were completed in the ACT in 2019 but only 316 of new stock dwellings could be sold.

ChrisinTurner5:51 pm 17 Sep 20

Remember they are also filling in the Lake to build apartments.

*sigh* there’s alot of people on here throwing out raw numbers like they mean something – they dont.
Public housing density is measured as a proportion of the total number of households in a suburb.
It’s a pretty easy function. Go to the ABS Quickstats page, and enter the SSC for the suburb you want, say Kambah which has 656 PH dwellings as per the FOI link helpfully sourced in the comments. Scroll down to the Household numbers under “Dwellings – household composition” (family+single+other) and total them (so for the Kambah example it’d be 4,059+1,204+139=5,402. Just a quick side note: you DO NOT use ‘dwelling numbers’ to calculate PH density, you use households – Marcus Mannheim’s recent article on the ABC was wrong, as I told him).
Then do this function: (100/5,402) x 656 = 12.14%
This shows Kambah is 12% public housing. So the raw PH number may be big, but the % aint much.
Now you can all talk about PH in a meaningful way.

and FYI, Oaks Estate is 54% public housing, so most of this thread is funny.

This is a very interesting point. What is SSC? Does public housing also include community housing, supported accommodation and other forms of social housing?

You sound like someone with their finger on the stats button. Where would you find the proportion of community facilities land per suburb? And whether this is being converted to residential? That would be interesting!

In addition to A Cogs comment, I would add that using multiple factors instead of just the public housing dwelling proportions need to be considered.

Yes. The percentage of a suburbs population in social housing is important. But you should NOT just base analysis on the dwellings proportions themselves, population counts and population proportions are also important. In the Kambah example given, its worth noting that 83% of the suburbs public housing tenants are in stand alone houses, which compares very differently to suburbs where the vast majority of public housing dwellings are 1 or 2 bedroom properties on a handful of land parcels, but the remainder of the suburbs non public housing population are in large expensive houses.

The Oakes Estate and Kambah examples he gives are two good illustrations of places with either a high proportion and/or a high count of public housing but ‘relatively’ poor government support services, poor infrastructure, poor educational opportunities and poor public transport etc. The vast majority of the 250 Oakes Estate residents do it very tough, but so do many of the 15,000 Kambah residents.

Unless I did it wrong, the data is from 2016 so probably very out of date for many areas of Canberra.

It will be interesting to see what the next census shows.

The government encourages a negative view of public housing either because they believe it or because our planners are incompetent.

Coombs and Wright are next to each other. I presume both have individual public housing (such as a single house in a street) scattered around them.

But Coombs has several public housing complexes while Wright initially had none.

What are people going to think when they look at those suburbs? It gives the impression that one suburb is the up market one with minimal public housing, and the other is the less desirable one with hundreds of public housing units.

The question is, did this design result from incompetent planners or does it reflect the true views of the government?

The differences between Climbs and Wright is one was delivered by the government and one by private developers.

It’s much easier to include higher rates of public housing in government built developments.

Take a look at Denman Prospect, not much affordable housing going in there.

I wasn’t aware that Wright was done by private developers any more than Coombs. Are you sure that is correct?

russianafroman6:44 pm 14 Sep 20

Is a “NIMBY” just anyone that provides input regarding how we should move forward in the public housing sector? What constitutes a “NIMBY”? Despite Bushnell’s opinion, it’s actually a good thing that we have people from all walks of life providing their input regarding public housing sector development. The idea that we should demolish all green space and build massive tenement blocks is an idea which was tried and failed. The 50s and 60s are over. Hope I’m not a “NIMBY” for suggesting this.

Nah a nimby is the kind of person like Paul Costigan that used to write regularly on this board about development of Dickson Parklands, which as many knew was nothing much more than an abandoned block of land. Said nimby tried to make the place sound like more than what it was, trying to conscience the non existing parklands was worth saving. You see similar with a lot of these kind of developments.

Heres is a quote from a talk addressed to Harvard by Wendy Sarkissian PHD,
“But – here’s my question: What if NIMBYism were justified because what is planned for your backyard was really something that shouldn’t be in your backyard?”
Worth a read for anyone interested in the debate https://www.thefifthestate.com.au/articles/nimbyism-community-resistance-and-housing-density/

Patrick Keogh4:46 pm 17 Sep 20

Perhaps it is NIMBYism when you pay a huge amount of attention to an issue when it is in your backyard but do not put in any significant amount of effort when it is somewhere else. So you are not PRIMARILY concerned with the issue, you are primarily concerned with your own backyard.

So if you are a campaigner for the protection of Australia’s insect species and you regularly contribute to discussion and action relating to the issue across Australia it is one thing, but if you only stick your head up when it directly relates to the grassland across the street from your house… that’s NIMBY behavior.

As if it isn’t hard enough for residents to object in a planning process heavily favouring the proponent of a development. If we seek a review of a development that directly conflicts with government policy about a sensible proportion of social housing in a particular area(15%) and packs tiny units onto a small community facilities block that has a big impact on the closest neighbours we are called all sorts of names. There is no effort to look at an alternative to demolishing an existing community facility. While hiding behind a cloak of offering lower rent to a few they don’t acknowledge or minimise the harm done to the nearest neighbours. Maybe a link could be provided to the article raising the residents issues.

Don’t agree with this piece at all. Let’s be clear, public housing now is not what it was in the 70s and 80s. It’s not income focussed, its disadvantage-focussed. Let’s also remember, Barr govt land grabs for public housing only occur on blocks he cant get top dollar for – when the lot is close to an urban centre, its gifted to developers for private usage. So the govt uses public housing as a trojan horse to strip-mine recreation space, painting opponents as NIMBYs (whilst simultaneously isolating tenants away from everything they need which is in the hubs).
If you want to see what happens when Housing steps back and lets it all rip, come see Oaks Estate.

The key issue is that those thousands and thousands of inner city social housing dwellings along Northbourne and opposite Canberra Centre have been torn down to be replaced by private development.

However, The tenants have been shipped out to the outer suburbs of Gungahlin, Tuggeranong and Molonglo with little facilities, poor public transport and a total lack of adequate health and social support services.

ACT Government built a new social housing development in Chisolm at the same time as they removed the Bus that serviced it.

Yes NIMBY’s are bad, ACT planners have proven themselves to be even worse. The author only attacks one side of the problem.

The latest plan for Ainslie is to remove an attractive mid century former preschool building which has been part of the local landscape for close to 70 years. Should we be so quick to tear it down and replace it with the type of industrial warehouse building which has been passing for architecture in the last few years? If you don’t like ugly crowded buildings suddenly appearing in your beautiful community is it fair to be called named by ambitious developers and their cronies? Is there a word for this type of name calling? Are we as a community being bullied into submission?

Spot on, Ian.

Mike of Canberra11:09 am 14 Sep 20

Oh how quick we are to use the term “NIMBY” when it comes to the subject of public housing. You have correctly identified a number of the objections neighbouring residents often have to new public housing developments. These objections all boil down to one thing: rogue tenants treated like little tin gods by our public housing authority and thus allowed to bring drug dealing, crime and general slovenliness into ordinary suburban streets. How do I know this? Because I’ve lived near such housing over a 40-year period. And what is the main problem with such situations? As much as we can view the tenants as the problem, the real blame lies with the administration of public housing. We are constantly assured that the problem tenants constitute a small minority (say 2-3%) of the public housing population, with the rest being responsible, law abiding people. If this is so, why does the housing authority put up with the miscreants? Why do they not practise the basic philosophy of focussing their tenant and property management activities on this small minority, leaving the responsible majority to just get on with their lives? Why is the small minority of miscreants allowed to ruin the lives not only of neighbouring private residents but also of the responsible majority that also live in public housing? I’ll tell you why. It’s because we have a public housing authority that operates on an ideological basis rather than on sheer practicalities. Few of those working in the housing authority ever have to live near the tenants they blithely foist on others. What’s more, we hear reports of rampant corruption in this same authority, something that doubtless contributes significantly to the sub-standard outcomes achieved. We can only hope the coming election sees a major shake-up in this area. NIMBYs indeed!

The issues you’ve raised are why I think the government should own almost zero public housing.

If the vast majority of public housing tenants are decent, they should be provided with additional welfare or housing “vouchers” to rent in the private market. This way the administration costs for government would be significantly reduced and a large amount of the problems they have removed.

The tiny minority of tenants who are not suitable for the private market should live in the remaining government owned housing with significant support services provided close by.

Do you also refer to indigenous people as nimbys when they try to protect the land they love? Nimbys are those who stand up to the onslaught of greedy, profit driven, build em & sell em developers. Being a nimby shows you love your land with as much attachment as the indigenous people. We need what were once called Green Bans and we need community activism to control Barr and his developer mates.

Stephen Saunders8:47 am 14 Sep 20

Well said. Canberra’s relatively homogeneous social, housing, and educational, mix is a priceless asset. As long as we keep it fairly low rise, and not socially isolated, as were the old Bega Flats.

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