Housing affordability crisis: Unions, developers urge Minns government to bolster density near Metro lines

Daily Telegraph, 29 November 2023

Courtney O’Brien drives so far to work she has a nap on the way before delivering high doses of radiation to cancer patients. Now, her union and developers are pushing for reforms to help essential workers. Vote in our poll.

Unions and developers have joined forces to push for urgent reforms that would give nurses, ambos and others in essential roles a fighting chance of being able to afford to live in Sydney.

The unlikely alliance is pressing the Minns government to dramatically increase density near new Metro train stations, arguing it would allow thousands of extra homes to be reserved for key workers on modest pay.

Rezoning areas around the transport hubs to permit midsize apartment blocks — of as much as nine storeys — would make it financially viable to rent out up to a fifth of the units at concessional rates, according to modelling and data endorsed by the Health Services Union (HSU), Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), Lendlease and Stockland.

“Too many workers can’t afford to live anywhere near their workplace,” said HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes.

“Many are exhausted before their shift because they have spent 90 minutes battling traffic. When it comes to developing affordable housing near rail lines, Sydney can’t go fast enough. We say yes and more.”

Lendlease’s head of development Tom Mackellar said governments in other countries in which it operates had moved more quickly to tackle the problem

“In Australia, we’ve been slower to act and we’re now playing catch up,” Mr Mackellar said. “If we want to future proof our cities and create a more equitable and resilient housing market, we need to embrace housing density and diversity around transport hubs, boost affordable housing targets, and work with government to ensure such future developments are financially viable.”

Currently, a typical hospitality worker has to spend nearly 80 per cent of their income to rent the average unit in Burwood, according to the Committee for Sydney, which supports the unions and developers.

Burwood is one of nine proposed stations on the new $25 billion Metro West line, which will stretch from the Sydney CBD to Westmead.

Under the proposal to increase density, essential worker rents would be capped at no more than 30 per cent of their household earnings.

Committee for Sydney CEO Eamon Waterford said “what’s good about this data is it shows we can deliver on that, and make it stack up financially. Critically, this is without subsidy from the NSW government.”

Business Western Sydney executive director David Borger said “we’ve only got one shot to get the housing right around transport interchanges when we change the zoning.

“The NSW Government must be ambitious with its affordable housing targets if essential workers are going to have any hope of putting a roof over their heads anywhere near the jobs we need them to do to keep our city running.”

Health worker Courtney O’Brien drives from Newcastle to Westmead Hospital each day. The 24-year-old has to stop and have a nap to feel alert enough to then deliver high doses of radiation to cancer sufferers.

Ms O’Brien said she and many colleagues would move closer to “in a heartbeat.

“At the moment it’s not feasible with prices the way they are,” she said.

The state government is expected to announce new zoning rules around transport hubs before the end of the year as it attempts to increase the number of new homes being delivered from less than 50,000 a year to more than 75,000.

Planning Minister Paul Scully said: “Sydney is one of the least dense cities in the world but fewer than half of councils allow for low and mid-rise residential buildings in areas zoned for such homes.

“We’re confronting a housing crisis so we need to change the way we plan for more housing, we can’t keep only building out. We need to create capacity for more infill, with more diverse types of homes,” Mr Scully said.