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News from the front desk: Issue No 320 – on housing and why it’s time for change

Sometimes the gods of exquisite timing smile upon us and we know the moment is right to seize the opportunity for action.

Such is the clear message we’re getting from the launch of our latest event, a Surround Sound on Housing: sustainable/affordable/disruptive.

We have been inundated with responses from the release of the first batch of tickets. Most recently on Monday we asked you, our readers, to send us questions or ideas in exchange for 10 tickets. Answers came back in droves and they are still coming.

Fresh back from a site visit to our venue at BVN studios with major sponsor UrbanGrowth NSW, we’re encouraged to be able to add a few more invites to the number we promised. But with about 70 good-to-great submissions to assess, we’ll probably not be able to advise winners until tomorrow morning, so apologies for the extra wait.

It’s no surprise there is such interest in housing.

Our event is happening at precisely the same time that the national spotlight has swung around to the housing sector as a matter for urgent attention.

As a topic of discussion it’s moved from pervasive general interest, to irritation to major problem for young and old, the parents of Millennials, social interest groups, community housing providers and government.

In Sydney the release of the draft district plans by the Greater Sydney Commission flagged 5-10 per cent affordable housing – a first for the city as a whole – sparked controversy. Why wasn’t the target higher?

Last week NSW Minister for Planning Rob Stokes sent the tension spiralling straight to Canberra when he flagged that negative gearing should be reviewed because it was part of the problem.

Tim Williams, increasingly a regular on our pages, quickly penned another neat and well argued missive praising Stokes. By morning we had a response from the Property Council’s Glenn Byers dismissing the arguments.

There has been endless discussion about what are the causes of runaway prices.

One thing no one disagrees with is that housing is a primal need of humans and a foundation of our culture. We’ve found in research for the event the conviction that a child deprived of adequate housing can mean the loss of their economic contribution for life and a drain on society’s resources instead. Housing needs to be seen as economic infrastructure, wrote Robert Pradolin for us two weeks ago.

A fantastic panel and special guests 

Another reason for the popularity of this event is because our panel members and special guests are among the most critically positioned people to shape the future of housing – and not just in Sydney. See the full list here.

Among special guests will be a Nightingale contingent, the model that looks like the start of something resembling Uber in the way that it’s seizing the development agenda for itself and changing the rules. We’ve written heaps on this.

We’re also expecting ordinary folk who are trying to do their own version of collaborative sustainable housing in the hope they can carve out homes for now or for their seniors years that avoid the monoculture of existing retirement village models, and that instead meet their wider deeper needs in social and sustainability standards.

There will be young people, the much pilloried Millennials who some say are happy eating smashed avocado and happy to eschew home ownership, but maybe with the terms and conditions changed, European style, so they can have the same security of tenure offered to commercial tenants of five or 10-plus years. Why not? We heard about one developer in Bondi who offered five year leases and they were snapped up in an instant.

One of the submissions for a ticket was from a group that wants to build eco villages in the city, with not just long-term tenure but rolling leases so they are in effect leases in perpetuity.

Ken Morrison, chief executive of the Property Council, says there is some interesting thinking under way among the big developers as well, who are paying close attention to changing consumer trends.

“Developers are definitely watching the shared economy space,” he told us recently. “Anything that can bring the entry price down to more potential buyers. It’s why lots are getting smaller, why we’re getting micro apartments, and why they’re creating product where you’ve got the shared the dining room instead of a gym.”

“What if you could create housing with no bills?” he asks.

Our guests probably won’t include the young creative, the service workers and socially immobile class who make up the rich diversity of our cities and must bear the brunt of the systemic failure of our modern neoliberal world that even after the GFC has refused to change. They should actually be at every event on housing, but the good news is that the people who want to represent them and try hard to shape a place where they get a better chance at decent housing are growing in numbers. And strength. And voice.

People such as Graham Jahn, director of city planning and development with the City of Sydney, made this poignant observation to us a few weeks ago: if you are a nurse or a gurney pusher at St Vincents Hospital you are not provided with a car park. So that when you finish a shift in the middle of the night you must find you own way home, which, because of your low income, might be hours away.

These are the people, said Jahn, who work 24/7 jobs – the hospital workers, the ambulance drivers and fire brigade workers, and the air traffic controllers that make a city tick.

Housing makes us all tick.

We’ve tapped creative veins for this event we had no idea existed.

Let’s give the determined people mining those creative veins the oxygen they need and the serious connectivity they need to get us all on board and co-create the future we want.

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