Homelessness + development

A week is a long time in politics, especially if you’re sleeping rough in a Hobart winter.

It was heartening to see recent unanimous support from the Hobart City Council to acknowledge the reality of the housing and homelessness crisis.

However, since then a group of elected members have attempted to link homelessness to the debate about high-rises and building height limits. 

Alderman Behrakis asserts that the debate about building heights holds ‘the city and its most vulnerable people to ransom’, suggesting that homelessness could be magically fixed by building more high-rises and city apartments.

However, the idea that homelessness can be fixed simply by Council approving more private developments is flawed. Here’s why:

Hobart City Council is already approving many residential developments. In fact, almost everything that comes to us gets the tick.

Of 14 proposals for inner city apartments since 2015, 13 have been approved or completed. These 13 projects have injected 1,114 new dwellings into the market. The one project wasn’t approved was the Fragrance Elizabeth Street proposal, because it wanted to go several times higher than the preferred limits for the area.

There are many issues affecting housing supply. Despite approvals going up, the number of new home completions has fallen below the long term average because of labour supply and availability of builders.

There is also the impact of the conversion of properties to visitor accommodation. In the three years between 2014 and 2017, the resident population in the City of Hobart area grew by 1,553 (ABS). In the same period Tourism Tasmania data shows that visitors to the city grew by 73,345.

Not surprisingly, this has led to growth of Airbnb listings in Hobart and while some of these would never have been long term rental properties, many of them would have been.

It is disingenuous to suggest that homelessness will be fixed by setting property developers free from planning rules.

Under this argument, every capital city with tall buildings and billions of dollars of residential development approvals should be havens free of homelessness.

But this is not the case. Every Australian capital city, regardless of height limits, political leanings of the Council, or level of building activity is facing a homelessness crisis similar to Hobart’s.

In fact, the Capital City Lord Mayors group of which I am Chair has recently decided to put all of its advocacy grunt into pushing for stronger federal government support for housing for people on low incomes.

Public and social housing is the most important solution to preventing homelessness among vulnerable people because it is affordable and provides security of tenure. Federal spending on housing has been flat for a decade and needs to increase if we are to tackle this problem.

At a time when there is so much discussion about homelessness, I encourage everyone to learn about the causes and solutions, rather than exploit people’s dire circumstances to suit their own interests.