Affordable housing on Newcastle rail corridor land for "key workers" | poll

POSSIBLE: A concept design for an affordable housing development in Merewether Street on the former heavy rail corridor, which would target "key workers". The government wants the council to help foot the bill.
POSSIBLE: A concept design for an affordable housing development in Merewether Street on the former heavy rail corridor, which would target "key workers". The government wants the council to help foot the bill.

THE state government will set aside 30 affordable housing units on the former heavy rail corridor for “key workers” including police, nurses and teachers – but it wants the city’s council to help foot the bill.

Housing Minister Anthony Roberts on Tuesday unveiled plans first reported in the Newcastle Herald in March to provide housing for “people on moderate incomes who make up our workforce” on the now-vacant corridor between Merewether Street and the former Civic Station.

The proposal involves asking Newcastle City Council to spend $3 million of residual funding from a state and federal grant called Building Better Cities to fund the project alongside the Hunter Development Corporation.

“Unfortunately the money’s been waiting there for more than 10 years, so I’m asking the Newcastle council to come on board with us because we can’t afford to wait around 10 years to continue these affordable housing developments,” Mr Roberts said.

The Herald reported in March that Hunter Development Corporation CEO Michael Cassel had raised the idea of the council contributing the funding to build a block of affordable housing units that would then be managed by a community housing organisation.

But Greens councillor Therese Doyle opposed the idea because, she says, the council was being “steamrolled” into adopting the proposal.

“They’re putting undue pressure on council to rezone that corridor when there are plenty of other places to put affordable housing,” Cr Doyle said. 

“At the same time as they’re selling people’s homes in Light Street from underneath them, they’re posing as knights in shining armour by selling off the corridor.”

But at a media conference in Newcastle on Tuesday, Mr Roberts and Transport Minister Andrew Constance were bullish in calling for the council to support the idea.

Mr Constance said the state government was “investing very heavily” into the Hunter and that he could “start to question the council about what they’re really inputting in terms of their contribution”. 

“I’m not in the mood for the Labor Party being a party of protest for everything we’re trying to achieve here, because the results are starting to show,” he said. 

The Labor-Greens dominated chamber is expected to make a decision on whether to support the state government’s proposal at its next meeting.

While the government is yet to lay out plans for how affordable housing would be targeted at “key workers”, it’s expected to be based around pay brackets rather than specific industries.

A housing affordability policy is expected to be announced in the lead up to the next state budget, which could include requirements for developers to build a proportion of homes that can be rented below market rates to key workers and other groups,

In the meantime Mr Roberts has praised developers like Mirvac for offering up new developments for first-home buyers.

Mirvac have committed to building 60 of its 690 new apartments at Olympic Park in Sydney for first-home buyers.

First home buyers purchasing those units will also be able to do so with an initial 5 per cent deposit, as opposed to the standard 10 per cent.

Property giant Stockland have developed a similar idea, planning to sell 100 homes in the 100 days to first-home buyers at three built communities in Denham Court, Marsden Park and Schofields in southwestern Sydney.

Drop in the ocean

But Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp says the government’s plan was a “drop in the ocean” that failed to deal with rising house prices forcing first home buyers out of the city.

“It’s never been harder to buy your own home and the government has had six long years to do something about it,” he said.

“30 units is a drop in the ocean to address this crisis, the government is always talking about making this city grow, but have no plans to help people afford to live here.” 

He said the government had missed a “golden opportunity” to create large-scale affordable housing when it sold the GPT development in the Hunter Street Mall. 

“Now that opportunity is gone and if you’re an average worker the truth is that you just can’t afford to buy a home in Newcastle,” he said.

“They're proposing so much development in the city and affordable housing is right off their radar.”

Possibility of more affordable housing units

Urbangrowth boss Michael Cassel said that if the council supported the plan it would begin consulting with a community housing provider on the project, which “may include even more dwellings”.

He said the development would be a “stand-alone opportunity”.

“Newcastle has a history of trying to get affordable housing up and running with community housing providers and not being able to get it over the line,” he said.

The project will also depend on the rezoning of the corridor, which will go on public exhibition before the council makes a decision on whether to support it.