Support For Community Housing

Find out why local residents object to community housing and how to best work with them.

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22.09.2021

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This page describes the reasons for community resistance to affordable housing and contains effective ways of building support for affordable housing.

CH
Community Housing
PD
Property Developers
LG
Local Government

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Some people don’t understand community housing

Despite growing understanding of the ‘affordability crisis’ facing many metropolitan and regional areas, many people still don’t understand what affordable housing is, or the diverse range of people who live in it.

In June 2018, a statutory definition of ‘affordable housing’, and income benchmarks for very low, low and moderate income households, were included under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Victoria). Guidance on the development of voluntary planning agreements was also included under section 173 of the Act.

Providing accurate information about affordable housing can be a good place to start. Reminding people that anyone in their family or community could need affordable housing at some time in their lives is also important.

Some people equate ‘affordable housing’ with substandard accommodation. Many have broader concerns about changes in their community, particularly increasing density in inner-city and suburban areas. ‘Affordable housing’ can get caught up in these wider concerns.  There are also common myths about the ‘types of people’ who live in affordable housing, or that including affordable housing in a development or area will ‘lower property values’.

Showcasing good examples in design, development and management can help to overcome such concerns. The case studies featured here, as well as those featured in project reports, are the outcome of successful partnerships between community housing providers and local government, State Government and/or private developers.

Some people don’t understand why it is important

Housing affordability is one of the most serious issues facing cities like Melbourne and Sydney, and many regional areas. There are very few areas in Melbourne, and in an increasing number of regions, where anyone on a very low, low or moderate income can afford to rent or buy.

Understanding the relative affordability and supply of housing in your local area, and presenting this information to decision makers and your community is an important step in building support for your development.

Highlighting the fact that people from all walks of life and diverse ages live in affordable housing is also important. Providing examples of the way that affordable housing can change lives and build communities can also help win support. You might find some of these case studies from the research useful, or you may prefer to use some of your own.

Reasons for objections

Some groups are more likely to oppose affordable housing

Some demographic and locational factors are likely to increase the risk of community resistance to affordable housing.

Understanding these factors can make you more prepared for community opposition and better able to effectively respond.

Different groups have different reasons for their opposition.

Research indicates that different groups have different reasons for opposing affordable housing developments. Understanding and addressing these issues early in the process makes planning approval more likely.

Often developments that have initially faced strong community opposition gain community acceptance either before or after the development is completed. This is good news for affordable housing proponents facing community opposition, especially in gentrifying areas where even smaller apartments are no longer ‘affordable’ for lower income households.

With greater understanding and appreciation that future affordable housing residents come from all walks of life, opponents and the wider community often come to accept and support community housing. 

How can we build support for affordable housing?

Anticipate opposition and be proactive

Even if you are in a ‘low risk’ area, it can be a good idea to expect that there may be community opposition to your development. Being prepared and proactive is a good precaution.

‘Successful’ developments have engaged council and the community (particularly those immediately surrounding the development) well before a development application is lodged. They continue this engagement long after the development is approved and occupied.

Understand your local community

Understanding your local community and the local affordable housing context is a good place to start.  

Make sure you have the right site

The suitability of the site for your proposed development is a crucial consideration in reducing risk, gaining planning approval and ensuring a successful development. A range of factors related to the ‘risk profile’ of your community, the compatibility of the development with surrounding land uses, and its ability to comply with relevant planning instruments are important.

Assessing the suitability of your site for the development is one of the first things that should be done. Comparing potential sites and selecting the best one is also a good idea to maximise yield and reduce risk.

Build relationships

The value of building relationships with your council and community as early as possible, and over the life of the project, cannot be over-estimated. This includes getting to know your council and helping them to understand your organisation and your project, and building a long-term partnership that benefits you both.

Consulting early and often with your ‘host community’, in particular immediately surrounding residents, is also critical. Incorporating what you hear into your plans to the greatest extent possible, and regularly reporting back to the community, will also help win support.

Make sure you are compliant and address substantive issues

Even if there is community opposition to your development, this will be harder to sustain if you have addressed all the substantive issues (like parking, heritage and privacy), administrative matters (like having the right documentation) and compliance with relevant planning process and instruments.  

Neighbourhood character is an important consideration in development assessment in Victoria.

In a review of 25 VCAT cases for affordable housing, community housing, rooming houses and special needs social housing developments between 2007 and 2018 that were originally refused by Councils, 40% had grounds for refusal that related to character.

In NSW, one of the main barriers to the approval of affordable housing and boarding house developments under the State Environmental Planning Policy Affordable Rental Housing 2009 has been the ‘local character test’.

It is important to understand how character has been interpreted to ensure your development does not face avoidable opposition.

What if there is still opposition to affordable housing?

Sometimes you will still face community opposition to your development, despite doing everything suggested by the evidence on good practice.

Although going to VCAT is absolutely a last resort as it is costly and unpredictable, if you have a good quality, compliant development you have reasonable prospects of success.