Community housing provider Bridge Housing is delivering affordable, accessible rental housing at its recently completed Bunya development in Western Sydney.
The $37 million project comprises 65 two and three bedroom homes developed in partnership with Lindsay Bennelong Developments’ subsidiary Clarendon Homes. The land was purchased from UrbanGrowth NSW as 10 super lots within an estate at Bungarribee.
The design of the homes is one of the project builder’s standard designs adjusted slightly by an architect for the housing provider to increase space efficiency and liveability. The result is homes that have the same quality as other volume builder product in the area.
Sustainability initiatives in the homes include solar PV, rainwater harvesting and storage, grey water re-use, LED lighting throughout and 100 per cent native plants in the landscaping. Bridge Housing also specified higher-than-code insulation of R5 for ceilings. The homes achieve an average of five-star NatHERS, and exceed BASIX targets with a score of 45 for water and 70 for energy.
Chief executive of Bridge Housing John Nicolades said one of the reasons the organisation specified higher than standard insulation was due to the degree of heat experienced in the Western Sydney area.
He said it was also hoped tenants would have savings on both energy and water costs due to the combination of solar PV and water harvesting.
Around 60 per cent of the homes have achieved a Silver standard for liveability from Livable Housing Australia.
Elements incorporated into these homes include a safe and continuous path from the front boundary to a step-free entry, and an enlarged entry door. Internal corridors and passages have a minimum clear width of 1000mm; and the ground floor toilet provides a minimum clear width of 900mm between the walls and 1200mm of clear circulation space forward of the toilet pan.
The shower screens are removable to allow for step-free shower access if required, and walls around showers, baths and toilets have been reinforced to provide a fixing surface for the installation of grab rails. All tiles throughout are slip-resistant, and the stairways have a continuous handrail on one side.
The development achieved greater density than surrounding lots, with the lot size for the Bunya homes 180 square metres compared to between 300 sq m and 450 sq m for other homes in the estate.
Mr Nicolades said a smaller lot reduces maintenance costs and effort for tenants in terms of lawn mowing. As the homes are all located opposite the Western Sydney Parkland or playgrounds, smaller gardens do not mean occupants lack for outdoor space.
The homes were tenanted quickly to 250 people – 150 of them children – that had been struggling to find affordable rental accommodation near their workplaces and communities.
“Many of them had experienced high levels of anxiety [about rental affordability], or had been living with family or friends in inappropriate conditions,” Mr Nicolades said.
For families, security of tenure is also crucial, as children become established at preschools, primary schools or high schools and parents want them to have continuity, he said.
The project was financed through a combination of $11.6 million debt financing from NAB and $13.3 equity from the organisation. The developer partner financed the building of 35 homes that were sold on to investors.
The risk and return for those homes was shared 50-50 between the community housing provider and the developer builder.
Under legal agreements with purchasers, the investment properties are to be retained as affordable rentals for a minimum of 10 years, and managed by the housing organisation.
It has also retained 30 homes as fully-owned assets.
Mr Nicolades said the development’s National Rental Affordability Scheme subsidy, which amounts to $708,000 a year for the next 10 years, made the investment homes a viable proposition for buyers.
The subsidy closes the gap between market rents for the Blacktown area and the lower than market rents charged by the housing organisation.
Some form of subsidy is required to deliver affordable housing, Mr Nicolades said. Increasing supply “hasn’t worked” to increase affordability.
“There were some issues with NRAS, but it shows what you can do if there is a subsidy available.”
He said that most housing is subsidised in one way or another already, whether it is negative gearing, capital gains tax exemptions, or the transfer of Commonwealth Rent Assistance via tenants to landlords.
The big questions is, have these subsidies led to “housing equity outcomes”?
He said the government should use the learnings from NRAS to design a better program.
It can also look to the UK example, where housing associations can undertake bond raisings in the market.
There are also some private developers in Australia that are looking at creating private rental market real estate investment trusts, Mr Nicolades said.
Under this scenario, the developers would build the properties and then hold them for longer periods rather than selling them off on completion.
The key would be the government paying the difference between the affordable rents and market rental returns, he said.
The organisation also supports a model of a financial aggregator raising funds from investors.
Mr Nicolades said that having now achieved a successful development with Bunya, the organisation is now looking for other sites where it can undertake similar projects.
“This demonstrates our expertise and capacity as a project leader to manage and coordinate a significant property development in partnership with the private sector and all levels of government.”