To solve its housing crisis, Sydney could learn from London

Some houses in the Paddington district of Sydney. Image: Getty.

So “fixing housing affordability” in Sydney is one of three top priorities for the new premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian. It’s good that the state’s new leader recognises this as an intensifying problem that can’t be ignored.

Berejiklian will appreciate the electoral importance of this issue. It’s an especially sensitive topic in western Sydney, which no longer provides Sydney with the large reserve of less-expensive property that it once did. Unless they can draw on family wealth, even middle-income first-home-buyers are now locked out of huge swathes of Sydney – including areas far from the inner city.

But given she came to the top job from the Treasury portfolio, Berejiklian would also be expected to have a clear understanding that the lack of well-located affordable housing is an economic productivity concern as well as a social problem.

One aspect of this, as shown by our recent research, is that central Sydney’s booming hospitality sector is facing growing pressure to find and retain suitable employees. This is because of workers’ limited ability to find affordable housing within a reasonable distance. To work in the inner city they must weigh up other compromises – such as living in shared housing, or paying a very high proportion of income in rent.

Relying on backpacker labour supply isn’t an ideal business strategy. And, as inner Sydney housing affordability deteriorates further, there’s every possibility other CBD industries will see their lower-income labour market thinning out.

The broader issue is the growing stress caused by the continuing focus of employment creation in inner-city areas. This applies especially to the so-called “global arc” stretching from the airport in the south to Macquarie Park in the north.

In the last few years annual job growth here has been running at more than 2 per cent, but only 0.5 per cent in western Sydney. At the same time, housing market pressures mean more and more people needed to fill these new jobs are having to live in outer western Sydney. The resulting traffic congestion is damaging Sydney’s economy.

Nationally, the cost of congestion in 2015 was A$16.5bn – up by 30 per cent on 2010. Anyone who commutes by car in Sydney will know it is a major part of this problem. Ultimately, some companies may choose to relocate to places where these problems are less severe.

Housing supply is only part of the solution

On the other hand, it must be hoped that Berejiklian will leave behind at Treasury the flawed analysis that fixing Sydney’s housing problems is simply a matter of increasing housing supply.

No-one disputes that, with continued population growth, maximising new house-building must be part of the policy mix. But the idea that this can provide any kind of silver bullet for housing unaffordability is shot dead by the experience of the past few years. Record construction rates have co-existed with unprecedented and ongoing property price hikes.

As premier, Berejiklian should therefore lend support to her ministerial colleague, Rob Stokes, who called it right by arguing recently that Sydney’s housing problems partly result from a market pumped up by excessive tax concessions for landlord investors.

These powers are held at the federal level, not with the states. So Berejiklian can do little more than lobby for such reform.

Adopt the best policies from others

And yet the premier does have important powers of her own that can make a difference.

Recognising that even a moderation of property prices isn’t going to provide relief for tens of thousands of hard-pressed renters, the NSW government must take a leaf out of the book of cities like London and New York by using its planning muscle to ensure the inclusion of affordable rental housing in all major new housing developments.

Under the former premier, Mike Baird, a promising initiative in this arena was the recent proposal by the Greater Sydney Commission to introduce a scheme of this kind. Private housing developments on sites “upzoned” under the planning system should include 5-10 per cent affordable rental housing.


If she is serious about this issue, Berejiklian should back the commission’s move. She can prove her commitment to finding solutions by setting a much higher affordable rental housing target for development on government-owned land. This would ensure that a significant affordable component is locked in for flagship projects such as the Central to Eveleigh and Bays Precinct urban renewal schemes. This is a one-off opportunity that must not be squandered.

The new premier should also recommit to the innovative Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF) created under her predecessor, following his 2015 commitment to a “billion-dollar fund” for affordable housing.

An announcement on the promised second phase of the SAHF has been long-awaited. Perhaps Berejiklian can pledge to underwrite this by dipping into the huge stamp-duty bonanza the government has reaped in recent years.

Above all, NSW needs an overarching housing strategy that encompasses much more than just the social end of the spectrum. Recognising the urgency of the problem, Berejiklian should pledge that her officials will get to work on this right away.The Conversation

Hal Pawson is an associate director at the City Futures Research Centre, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.