Communities Plus – something old something new

26 May 2016 | Posted In: #129 Winter 2016, #132 Winter 2017, Housing Types and Issues, Public Housing, Public Housing – Redevelopment, Urban Development, | Author: Craig Johnston | Author: Geoff Turnbull

Communities Plus is the NSW Government’s approach to renew and increase the amount of social housing stock in NSW. The approach is being used in the redevelopment of the Ivanhoe Estate at Macquarie Park and is proposed for the Waterloo redevelopment. Craig Johnston and Geoff Turnbull explain this approach to using the value of land to build new social housing.

cpIn recent decades, and as noted in a report of the NSW Audit Office in July 2013, there has been a steady decline in the number of dwellings owned by the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) — most of which are managed as public housing, and some managed as community housing.

In the last couple of years this decline has been stopped, and LAHC has reported extremely modest net additions in the number of dwellings it owns. Now, LAHC is looking to actually build on the turn-around, and increase the numbers overall from the current 130,000 or so state-wide.

Some of the core factors that underpin LAHC’s commercial viability have not changed (and might not change), in particular a customer base of mainly lower-income households. But there has been a steady increase in the value of the land owned by LAHC. This has occurred as a result of natural scarcity in Sydney, and rezoning to allow for higher density that has been driven by successive state governments.

Currently some of its public-housing estates and sites are located where value in those sites can be ‘unlocked’. The sites can be redeveloped at higher densities (with high-rise or medium-rise buildings); with components of private for-sale dwellings and also with components of social housing and intermediate (‘affordable’) housing.

This is the basis of the Communities Plus initiative foreshadowed in a media release by social housing minister Brad Hazzard on 24 September 2015. It was followed by an industry briefing held in November and further clarified in the initial Expression of Interest (EOI) processes. The program has a dedicated website at

Many of the aspects of the initiative are similar estate-redevelopment initiatives that we have seen in the last decade (such as at Minto and Bonnyrigg). The approach involves:

  • a redevelopment of an existing estate or site,
  • demolitions of existing dwellings and construction of new dwellings,
  • greater densities because of favourable planning controls (in particular floor space ratios),
  • redevelopment not to be undertaken by a government agency (but by a private-sector firm or community-housing provider or consortium),
  • developers’ profit to be enabled by greater supply of dwellings on the site and sale of a proportion of those dwellings to individual owners,
  • replacement of the social-housing dwellings demolished with new social-housing dwellings,
  • displacement of existing tenants,
  • various place-making and community-engagement strategies, and
  • property and tenancy management of the social-housing dwellings by a community housing provider (not by a government agency).

Unlike some other estate redevelopment initiatives of recent years, there has not been the ‘break-up the dysfunctional estates’ rhetoric around Communities Plus. Rather, it has been cast around a need to grow the supply of social-housing dwellings, a practical path for financing that growth as well as a need to replace dwellings that are no longer ‘fit for purpose’.

The initial package of seven sites involved the Ivanhoe public housing estate at Macquarie Park in North West Sydney and six smaller scattered sites within and outside Sydney. Since then estates at Telopea, Waterloo, Riverwood and Arncliffe were added. Most of the $22 billion redevelopment of public housing estates announced as part of the Government’s Future Directions for social housing in NSW policy (released in January 2016) are expected to be via Communities Plus.

The NSW Government has focused growth on the precincts where it can get greater densities, as part of a broader strategy of redeveloping town centres and precincts around transport nodes, and nearby estates get absorbed in the development. You can see this in the following examples:

  • The Ivanhoe estate 259 dwellings at Macquarie Park in a middle-ring suburb close to a transport node, a university and a growing commercial centre, will be developed over 8-10 years.
  • According to 2011 Census Telopea has 468 public housing dwellings making up 20% of the suburb. Telopea sits on the route of the proposed Parramatta Light Rail Project and is expected to be developed over 10-15 years.
  • Redeveloping Waterloo estate’s 2,012 dwellings has been used as part of the case to place a new Waterloo Metro station next to the estate in a redevelopment expected to take 15-20 years.

LAHC’s intention is to cap social housing at each of the Communities Plus sites at 30% of the total new dwellings.

UrbanGrowth has advised that at Waterloo it is proposed there will be more than the existing 2,012 public housing units on the estate, that there will be 5,000 additional private units (some of which will be affordable housing) and that social housing will equate to around 30% of the development. At Ivanhoe, LAHC in its ‘Registration of interest’ wanted about 2,470 dwellings, including about 550 social housing and 120 ‘affordable’ rental housing to be delivered on its land. The winning proposal delivered 3,000 dwellings including 950 (32%) social and 120 (4%) affordable housing.

LAHC will insist that the design of apartment buildings not distinguish between those used for social/affordable rental and privately-owned housing.

A paper released as part of the tender for some of the smaller sites was analysed by the Tenants’ Union NSW and gives some indication of how the scheme may work.

  • The program is predominantly seeking one and two bedroom dwellings as social housing, with a preference for more two bedroom dwellings. A number of dual key dwellings could be attractive as they provide greater flexibility.”
  • “as a minimum, the social housing will be required to meet the Silver Level of the Liveable Housing Design Guidelines as published by Liveable Housing Australia.” This covers eight core design elements of most widespread benefit including step free access to the unit, a toilet and shower, as well as reinforcing for easy adaptation of bathroom and stairs.
  • “Passive environmental design, which maximise solar access, orientation and cross flow ventilation to reduce energy heating, cooling, lighting and clothes drying costs…will be a requirement”.
  • LAHC will seek to optimise its commercial return for the land it contributes to the project, whilst adding to the overall supply of social housing and “seamlessly integrating” social, affordable and private market housing.
  • LAHC would retain ownership of the land until the project is completed and would appoint a Proponent to develop the site at the Proponent’s cost. The proponent earns a return through a development fee equal to the proceeds of sale…[and] will be responsible for and accept all risk selling the private dwellings”.
  • The government anticipates that affordable residences will be owned or controlled by the developers, and managed by a registered community housing provider. Further, “it is not intended the value of land contributed by LAHC will fund the affordable housing component.”These residences will be managed according to Department of Family and Community Service  guidelines as to what constitutes affordable rental housing.
  • The paper also notes that parties contracted to construct and manage the sites will not be able to draw on funding from other NSW Government housing initiatives, such as the Social and Affordable Housing Fund.

Any redevelopment relocates tenants. On the larger Waterloo estate, it is expected people will be relocated early in the development to surrounding suburbs. Later in the development it should be possible to move people directly into their new housing on the estate. In smaller developments an interim move is likely.

Many key questions remain unanswered. It is unclear what input current public housing tenants will have into the decisions that will affect their future. Issues of concern for current tenants are those that shape their neighbourhood, aspects of the redevelopment, the relocation process, engagement (information, consultation, participation) and the shape of the new built form.

Introducing the eight core design elements:
The eight core design features elements in the silver level they are:

  1. A safe continuous and step free path of travel from the street entrance and / or parking area to a dwelling entrance that is level.
  2. Internal doors and corridors that facilitate comfortable and unimpeded movement between spaces.
  3. A toilet on the ground (or entry) level that provides easy access.
  4. A bathroom that contains a hobless (step-free) shower recess.
  5. Reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bath to support the safe installation of grabrails at a later date
  6. A continuous handrail on one side of any stairway where there is a rise of more than one metre.
  7. Stairways are designed to reduce the likelihood of injury and also enable future adaptation.
  8. At least one, level (step-free) entrance into the dwelling.

LHA acknowledges that the core design elements do not necessarily accommodate the needs and abilities of all home occupants. However, they are considered to be of most widespread benefit and use in the majority of circumstances.

Importantly, by including the core livable housing design elements, home occupants are provided with the opportunity to reduce or avoid costs associated with retrofitting a home to improve access in future, should it be required.

Source: Livable Housing Australia Livable Housing Design Guidelines page 13

Craig Johnston was the Principal Policy Officer at Shelter NSW when this article was originally produced. Geoff Turnbull is the Co-editor of Inner Sydney Voice Magazine.

This article was updated in mid-2017 for the Winter 2017 special ISV on Redeveloping Waterloo Public Housing.

Links and Resources

Communities Plus

UrbanGrowth NSW

Department of Planning and Environment

Land and Housing Corporation