A new housing affordability competition has thrown up some creative concepts for housing affordability. 

What can we do to address the housing affordability crisis?

How about a community lands trust? Or a smart home that collects data on its occupants, uses the data to improve performance… oh, and makes a few dollars from selling the data on the side? Then there is the notion of an equity housing model such as lifetime leases or a more flexible rent?

These are just some of the creative concepts that were selected for the short list in the City of Sydney’s recent Housing Challenge

There were 230 entries in total from both national and international teams, with seven ideas shortlisted as finalists.

Each of the short list teams will receive $20,000 to further develop their concept over the next five months with the public invited to provide feedback in November and December.

Shortlisted concepts cover a wide array of approaches including new design and delivery methodologies, innovative financing and ownership arrangements, planning tools, smart data systems and supporting pop-up housing in unused buildings.

“Sydney is grappling with a housing affordability crisis, but we need a diversity of housing to accommodate the diversity of our community,” City of Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said.

“In addition to sustained investment in social and affordable housing by state and federal governments, we need new ideas to increase affordable housing supply, so I’m excited that we received such a diverse array of ideas that we increased the shortlist from six to seven.

“We’re proud to announce our final shortlist, offering new ideas for alternative and affordable housing solutions to help meet the needs of our community and beyond. We anticipate that the successful projects will be replicable, scalable and provide lessons for future initiatives.”

New equity models and long term leases

Eddie Ma, co-founder of spatial design practice, Vigilanti, has created an equity housing model that delivers affordability for low and moderate income households through innovations in finance and ownership types including lifetime leases, and affordable and social housing in a flexible rental model.

An investment opportunity is also part of the concept.

“Socially minded impact investors could invest in projects with a capped return and offer housing under a leasehold ownership for a lifetime lease agreement, as opposed to perpetual ownership,” Mr Ma said. 

“We believe the equity housing model has great potential to bring relief to the desperate affordability crisis we have on our hands.”

Temporary pop up shelters

Housing All Australians’ temporary pop-up shelters delivered through repurposing existing buildings to provide transitional short-term and medium-term accommodation was another of the seven short-listed concepts.

“This is not a long-term solution, but an immediate response by the private sector to a city in crisis,” HAA founder and director, Robert Pradolin said.

The land trust model

Western Sydney University researcher Dr Louise Crabtree and Jason Twill of Urban Apostles have proposed a metropolitan lands trust policy framework. The partnership’s proposal considers a Sydney-wide metropolitan community land trust policy where equitable and innovative development models could be enabled and scaled.

“Community land trusts are non-profit, community-based organisations designed to ensure permanent housing affordability through community stewardship of land,” Dr Crabtree said.

“We cannot address housing affordability issues in our cities until we address how we relate to and govern land. It’s not a design issue, it’s a land issue.”

“Addressing the impact of land cost inflation on affordability is core to unlocking an equitable future for Sydney.”

Principal architects with USA practice in situ Design and University of Kansas academics Joe Colistra and Nilous Vakil propose a concept for a smart home that collects marketable data on its residents while at the same time utilising the monitoring systems to improve home performance and reduce energy spend.

The key idea is the sale of data can offset the occupants’ housing costs.

“The ‘Smart Home Sydney’ introduces affordable options while providing amenities and services to thrive at all stages of life,” Mr Colistra said.

“A science fiction scenario of ‘smart cities’ is not as far off as you may believe. The smart home prototype provides a vision of the future and creates lifelong neighbourhoods.”

Getting the size right and making the design flexible

A collaborative international team comprising Monash University researcher Dr Alysia Bennett, UCLA CityLAB’s Dr Dana Cuff and University of South Australia researcher Dr Damian Madigan has conceptualised A Right Size Service that would enable people to adapt the size and function of an existing property.

Dr Bennett told The Fifth Estate the concept draws on a Californian initiative that has facilitated granny flat developments on existing properties.

Dr Cuff was involved in the development of the planning and implementation guidelines to support a policy change in 2017 that enabled the development of granny flats (also known as accessory dwelling units) under city planning laws throughout the state.

Within 12 months of the policy change applications for granny flats in LA alone rose from 70 a year to 2000 in 2018. Within two years, around 20 per cent of all housing development applications in LA were for granny flats.

The idea of the Right Size Service is it provides a downsizing option other than moving house. It supports DIY renovations to improve home performance while also making it possible to allow other people to occupy the owner’s existing dwelling.

People would be able to design and change the configuration of the home so it is “always the right size” for its current needs.

Bennet says that although household sizes change as family members come and go, home designs are typically not flexible enough to allow easy transition with leasing or sharing of space.

Most of the guidelines and policies the team will develop during the next few months will be focused on detached dwelling types found in established inner and middle-ring suburbs, but it would be also ideal to influence new “McMansion” style designs with the same flexibility.

The team will also investigate financial options for renovation to deliver adaptation, the legal aspects of leasing or subleasing, building code compliance and any potential barriers in local planning regulations.

A pixelated view of essential spaces 

Another of the finalists, The Pixel Project, has its roots in examining what the essential spaces are a human being needs to live well in the city. Devised by panovscott Architects principals Anita Panov and Andrew Scott, and Alexander Symes of Alexander Symes Architect, the design-led approach is based on small “pixels” comprising private rooms 16 square metres with ensuite and storage, located around shared communal living areas.

Speaking with The Fifth Estate, the team said rebuilding community is also part of the picture.

A collection of pixels would be an alternative to the current trend towards smaller and smaller self-contained dwellings, and enable sharing of gardens, living spaces – even potentially backyard chickens.

The team has also considered the financial dimensions. Its proposal aims for a pixel to cost around 30 per cent of annual income, with the dwelling located on a site subject to a 100-year land lease held by a company, rather than a private land ownership tenure.

This would decrease the cost of getting into the market and provide an alternative to either renting or buying under current market arrangements.

The team envisages people buying shares in the company holding the land lease, which then enables them to scale up or scale down the number of pixels their household occupies. Shares could also be inherited or traded

Mr Scott said part of the design solution would involve considering the “threshold conditions” between the private space and the public space carefully, to ensure dwellings cater for the individual’s varying needs and desires for engagement with others.

Sustainability is fundamental to the concept, with design and materiality thinking acknowledging the finite nature of the planet’s resources, Mr Symes said.

Over the coming months the team will start to more fully develop the scheme, including looking at methods for fabrication and how the concept would work from both a legal and an amenity perspective. The team also need to find ways a proposal could deliver the standards required under planning regulations and rental design regulations.

“We want to create something that is high on amenity, highly sustainable, affordable for all and sociable,” Mr Symes said. 

A third way between renting and owning – an idea from Switzerland

Co-operative housing models for non-profit build-to-rent developments in Zurich, Switzerland, were the inspiration for The Third Way, a proposal from associate director at MGS Architects Katherine Sundermann, urban strategist Alexis Kalagas and urban designer Andy Fergus.

“Our proposal is a non-profit model of build to rent housing that has the potential to shape Sydney’s housing supply by providing a ‘third way’ between renting and owning,” Ms Sundermann said. 

The idea would be to provide greater rental security for residents while locking in below market rent.

The team envisages projects would be developed and financed through member equity, low-interest loans and commercial mortgages.

  • Read more about all the finalist proposals here

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  1. Brian, that is a great article. Banks will always be banks. They will bank their business for profit, regardless of if they are big or small.
    It does seem like a mentality though. A sense of the people driven by need for security.
    A land grab.
    This is probably not helped by restrictive government and restrictive banking..

  2. Affordable LAND creates affordable housing. It is the cause. We have a LAND crisis not a Housing crisis. Untill all land is taxed there will be no solution and calling it a Housing Crisis hides the cause of the problem from the start. When unearned land value is returned to the generators of that value ie the public via land value Capture land speculation will always spiral into insane levels of debt and inevitable collapse with its horde of avoidable social and civil ills destruction and inequity.
    Henry George was a popular economic philosopher in the late 19th Century. His book Progress & Poverty stormed the world in the 1880’s by taking David Ricardo’s Law of Rent to its logical conclusion. George spelt out how current land ownership laws allow a pyramid society for the rich to live off the poor. His simple but emotionally inspired writings alerted the people to this travesty. He also provided a solution.

    This led to a worldwide Georgist movement.

    Henry George was the first economist to demonstrate that taxes based on resources – which he called land tax, or the ‘single tax’ – produced the greatest prosperity with the least adverse effects. He demonstrated how poverty and unemployment could be minimised by the removal of all current taxation with the replacement of the ‘single tax’.

    Naturally, proposing to tax resources upset the wealthy elite of his day and so he was bitterly opposed.

    People like Albert Einstein, Alfred Deakin and Henry Ford saw George as one of the most important intellectuals of the Classical era. Some say the success created by George led to the death of Classical Economics. Proof of his popularity in Australia saw some 10,000 people attend George’s inspirational speech at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre in 1890. Similar numbers followed his talks around the country.
    He gained such support by making economics understandable to the average person.
    “Men like Henry George are rare unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form, and fervent love of justice.” – Albert Einstein

  3. Finlands solution is simple. Give the homeless homes. I mean FFS it is that simple. Australias residentail zoned land is less than the area of Fiji pop 900,000. We crush 25+ million into the same area, while graziers get fat tax subsidies to populate 54% of the continent with cattle and sheep. its a fucking joke.

  4. https://www.earthsharing.org.au/2006/09/the-danish-experience/
    Denmark 1957-60 The Danish Justice Party, formed a so-called ‘land tax’ government based on the following:

    1. Collection of land rent
    2. Liberalisation of trade: including closing the Department of Supply and Import Control
    3. A tax freeze

    The following improvements took place in the next three and a half years (1957-60), contrary to what was occurring abroad:-

    1. The big balance of payments deficit was turned into a surplus
    2. Denmark’s total debts abroad amounting to 1,600 million kr. were reduced to one quarter of this, to about 400 million kroner
    3. Interest rates, and rents in new housing, declined
    4. Unemployment was soon replaced by virtual full employment, together with considerable increases in production and wages
    5. Inflation was brought to a standstill
    6. All wage increases were real wage increases- the highest ever in Denmark
    7. There were no new taxes during the three and a half years
    8. The Department of Supply was closed down. In 1960 all import restrictions were lifted and duties cut
    9. There was a period of industrial peace, with no ‘strike’ activity

  5. Firstly, I would have liked to participate in this competition, however because I live in Victoria, I did not think my ideas would be considered.
    However, I would like to comment on sections of the Fifth Estate article in relation to my experiences with housing and knowledge of building energy efficiency. The two excerpts below I have commented on in good faith and trust they will be accepted in good faith.
    Excerpt One
    “Community land trusts are non-profit, community-based organisations designed to ensure permanent housing affordability through community stewardship of land,” Dr Crabtree said.
    “We cannot address housing affordability issues in our cities until we address how we relate to and govern land. It’s not a design issue, it’s a land issue.”
    “Addressing the impact of land cost inflation on affordability is core to unlocking an equitable future “
    Not a month ago
    From an ad in our local paper, council were selling off vacant land.
    I personally spoke with our Mayor who informed me they were selling of vacant land, most of which was because of unpaid rates which do get paid, just before sale time.

    However, our Mayor indicted the council have quite a few vacant allotments that are sold off from time to time for various reasons after a very rigorous process.

    To this, I suggested these allotments the council have had for decades owe nothing by comparison to today’s cost.
    Why couldn’t these be utilised for providing welfare housing etc. council are always calling for Governments to support welfare housing.

    Simple answer.
    Why should Council give away land, that the rate payers could use the funds.
    State and Federal Governments would not provide funding because councils doing this for them or they would reduce funding for welfare housing.

    As I said to the Mayor the land owes the council nothing, wouldn’t it be better to help the homeless or welfare people shortage as known in our area?

    So I put these propositions to the Mayor, who wants me to formally write to council with my ideas.
    So here they are

    Council would have to engage with rate payers on my ideas for approval.

    Obtain a fair valuation for land.

    If the land is large enough for two dwellings with a fair amount of space for garden, shrubs etc. for optimal building energy efficiency, no over developments, then allow two houses.

    When land valued at up to $400,000.00 the Federal and State Governments match this, fifty cents (50cents) to the dollar of land value for housing (They can fight out who pays what, that will probably take years. Perhaps they pay equal amounts)
    If the land can take two homes dollar for dollar.

    When land valued $400,000.00 upwards, fifty cents (50cents) to the dollar for housing.
    If there should be buy back schemes for people who are provided with housing,

    council should get a payback percentage of selling price,

    Governments then reinvest payments into a designated fund for further welfare housing,

    Councils and Government elect an Independent management board were representatives are appointed to ensure transparency and honest professional management of funds.

    This should ensure the fund is not ripped off, by incompetence or excessive management charges through some Government Department budget.

    Excerpt Two
    “Principal architects with USA practice in situ Design and University of Kansas academics Joe Colistra and Nilous Vakil propose a concept for a smart home that collects marketable data on its residents while at the same time utilising the monitoring systems to improve home performance and reduce energy spend.
    The key idea is the sale of data can offset the occupants’ housing costs.”
    I see this proposal above as completely flawed.
    Referring to 1997 USA research, a must read on why building energy efficiency is in a “mess”
    Just a couple of excerpts below, to calm the people who maybe upset to read the truth.
    For further reading refer to my submission to the 2014 Royal Commission Home Insulation Program, where this research is revealed.

    Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1997
    Home Energy Rating Systems: Actual Usage May Vary

    by Jeff Ross Stein
    Jeff Ross Stein, a former research assistant at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is currently a design engineer at ACCO, an HVAC contractor.

    The discrepancy between scores and energy use may be due to the take-back effect. Take-back occurs when people with more efficient homes use more energy than expected because they are less cautious about maintaining thermostat setbacks and other basic efficiency measures. In other words, higher-scoring houses may indeed be more efficient than lower scoring houses, but only if they are operated in the same manner.

    Occupant behavior is probably the single most significant determinant of actual energy use

  6. Each proposal has its values. The housing accommodation is at crisis. In particular homelessness. I believe the Pop Up idea is the best idea considering the immediacy of the need for housing. Whereas, the other proposals might take longer in time to come to fruition.