NSW government pushes Newcastle council to fund affordable housing

The NSW government is pushing for 30 affordable housing units to be built along Newcastle’s former rail corridor, but has been accused of “steamrolling” Newcastle City Council into funding it and rezoning land.

Planning minister Anthony Roberts was in Newcastle on Tuesday to announce the plan, which hinges on the council putting in $3 million dollars of unspent funds from the now-defunct Building Better Cities program, a federal initiative from the early-to-mid-90s. The funds must be spent on inner city affordable housing.

“The NSW government is determined to deliver more new homes and is equally passionate about delivering affordable homes for people on moderate incomes who make up our key workforce,” Mr Roberts said.

The council will soon vote on whether to release the funds, though one Greens councillor is opposed, saying the council’s Building Better Cities committee was “steamrolled” into endorsing the plan.

“They’re putting undue pressure on council to rezone that corridor when there are plenty of other places to put affordable housing,” councillor Therese Doyle told Newcastle Herald.

She also noted the government was currently selling off seven public housing properties at Bar Beach, and is expected to reap tens of millions of dollars from the process.

At a media conference on Tuesday, Mr Roberts made a strong case for having affordable housing in all new developments, saying it was good planning to “salt and pepper” affordable housing throughout the community to build strong communities.

The focus is very much on key workers, rather than those on low incomes, with Mr Roberts framing perceived council intransigence on the issue as an attack on working people.

“For council to turn around and try to kick this to a state level, or indeed for Greens councillors to turn around and oppose our nurses, our firies, our police and ambos, and childcare workers living in our communities where they can afford to live, I think that’s pretty disgraceful and I think they’re better than that,” he told a media conference.

Mr Roberts said the funding had been sitting unused for more than 10 years, however in 2013 the council had voted to use it for the Empire Hotel development, which was to include 25 affordable housing units, however the state’s deal with the Newcastle First consortium fell through.

The Empire site is now going ahead, with the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle recently approved to build a 128-unit development on the Hunter Street site, with up to 64 units to be affordable housing and 11 accessible units for people with a disability.

A spokesman for Newcastle City Council told The Fifth Estate it was not currently commenting on the issue, though it is due to consider the proposal at its next council meeting next week.

Council documents show that the Building Better Committee has recommended that the council provide in principle support for the Hunter Development Corporation to locate the affordable housing on the rail corridor, and provide the $3 million in funding, but has not made any comment for or against the rezoning request.

The land would need to be transferred to HDC and rezoned “B4 Mixed Use”. The rezoning would be part of the broader rezoning of the entire former rail corridor, which will go on public exhibition before being considered by council.

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