What can councils do to support affordable housing?

There are many parts to the housing unaffordability puzzle and many players who are working on their own agendas, so it’s not an easy solution.  This blog suggests a few actions that councils can take to help the process back to affordability:

Identify more zoned and serviced land for development

This one has been harped on about by Government and incorporated into the National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity (NPS-UDC). It’s not a new issue, but still needs to be done in many areas which means councils need more staff effort to facilitate faster and smarter progress.  This is a better solution than outsourcing.  My experience suggests that getting consultants to do this work without close staff involvement is likely to lead to problems and cost more in the end.

Scale the development contributions to the size of development

Councils have a Development Contributions Levy Policy that specifies how much a typical Housing Unit of Development (HUD) should pay towards the council cost of providing infrastructure (roads, pipes, community facilities) to support the development.  This income is vital to pay back the loans that councils get to support development and stop the need for existing ratepayers to foot the bill.  Some councils are starting to bring in  discounts for smaller dwellings but I am yet to find one that has a higher charge for a larger dwelling (although commercial spaces are changed on occupied or Gross Floor Area – GFA).  Hence I believe councils should adopt this table to fairly support the affordable end of the market.

Without this approach, smaller houses are often subsidising the infrastructure cost of larger houses.

Remove arbitrary minimum lot sizes

The typical Council District plan has multiple rules about the minimum size of lots in different zones and this made sense in the past when slums were a problem and people tended to grow their own food.  Times have moved on and there are supermarkets and a host of other rules about minimum outdoor living space, protection of solar access, boundary setbacks, maximum site coverage etc.  All these rules have a sound basis and eliminate the need to also have an arbitrary minimum lot size.  Wellington City doesn’t see the need for it, so why should other councils?

Adjust urban boundary setbacks

Urban boundary setbacks should be more flexible and work logically with solar access, fire ratings etc.  An arbitrary 1.5 – 3 or even 6 m setback just wastes space in many cases.  For fire safety and maintenance purposes 1m is all that is required between houses, if we don’t bother with the fence.  The other option is building right up to the boundary on one side, or even the front of the property if it is facing south.  The total site coverage doesn’t need to change, so by having less setback, the non-built space becomes more useful and can be concentrated on the north side of the dwelling where the sunshine is.

Now what?

These are a few practical solutions that councils could apply to facilitate affordable housing.  If you are interested in this subject area, we have a lot of experience and knowledge that can assist your project.   Contact us to discuss.