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The Hills Shire Council pioneers Transitional Housing

Photo (L-R): Stewart Seal (The Hills Shire Council Manager of Forward Planning – Strategic Planning), Janelle Atkins (Hills Shire Council’s Acting Manger of Forward Planning – Strategic Planning, Maria Kovacic (Founder of Western Sydney Women and on the board of The Hills Community Aid), Julian Leeser MP, Mayor Yvonne Keane MP, Chris Johnson (CEO of Urban Taskforce), Councillor Ray Harty, Maria Scott of PAYCE, Michael Edgar (General Manager of The Hills Shire Council) and Stephen McIntyre (Chief Executive Officer of Wentworth Community Housing).

In a first for Local Government, Mayor of The Hills Shire Councillor Yvonne Keane has introduced a new planning model, the Transitional Housing Policy Framework, that recognises the importance of transitional housing and highlights the lack of current stock.

The model encourages willing developers to provide a small number of transitional dwellings within new developments in return for an ‘uplift’ in development yield.

The framework provides incentives to assist local government and other not-for-profit organisations provide a safe and temporary home for those escaping from domestic and family violence.

It is different from social and affordable housing – see below for a detailed explanation.

“For some time, I’ve been thinking of ways in which The Hills Shire Council might play a key role in delivering tools to help our community respond to domestic violence. We have a wonderful women’s shelter, The Sanctuary, but the missing link is transitional housing,” Mayor Keane said.

“Transitional housing provides safe, comfortable and secure accommodation for women and their children to recover, re-build and make informed and empowered decisions about their lives and their future.

“It is the essential ‘next-step’ towards real independence. Without it, a woman is faced with the possibility of returning to the cycle of violence.

“The real beauty of this model is that it provides a mechanism to swiftly create a supply of transitional housing – and it does so at no cost to the community and the state and federal governments.

“I am so enormously proud of the proposal to solve the transitional housing issue in The Hills and I am even more proud that it was unanimously supported by council,” Mayor Keane added. 

CEO of Women’s Community Shelters Annabelle Daniel said moving on from domestic and family violence is a process that can take a number of years and the council’s Transitional Housing Policy Framework would help provide more homes to those seeking assistance.

“Stable, affordable transitional housing, where women and children continue to receive support from people they trust, helps them enormously in building lives free from abuse,” Ms Daniel’s said. 

“Supported accommodation, such as that encouraged by this proposal, will ensure women can focus on stability, opportunity and contribution, for themselves and for their children.”

CEO of Wentworth Community Housing Stephen McIntyre welcomed the leadership of the council in responding to family and domestic violence and expanded on the important role that transitional housing can play to ensure its success.

“This innovative policy will promote partnerships between property developers and community housing providers to provide much needed transitional housing, providing a safe home and pathway to future independence,” Mr McIntyre said.

“The community housing sector is well regulated with annual compliance required against national standards. This means that providers like Wentworth are ideally suited to ensure the properties are professionally managed and that women and children are well supported during their transition period.”

The model allows for transition dwellings to be provided in well-located and serviced areas at no direct cost to council, federal and state governments and the community.

The planning proposal is currently being assessed by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment as part of the Gateway Process.

Developers come on board

The Transitional Housing proposal by The Hills Shire Council is fully supported by the developers’ body Urban Taskforce, as it has appropriate incentives to encourage developers.

“The Council proposal is to encourage developers to provide a single apartment for a 10-year period by allowing two extra apartments above the current planning limits,” said Urban Taskforce CEO Chris Johnson.

“This approach is similar to the Urban Taskforce proposal to providing affordable housing for a ten-year period through an uplift in floor space and height. The development industry can contribute subsidised housing over a ten-year period if the incentives for extra floor space are sufficient to make this economically viable.”

“A number of Urban Taskforce members who are developing apartment projects in The Hills Shire Council area, including Sekisui, Mirvac, Aqualand, Dyldam and PAYCE, have expressed their support for the Transitional Housing proposal. Major developers like PAYCE have run the numbers over the proposal and believe it is a viable approach to help provide the subsidised housing that council is encouraging.”

What is Transitional Housing?

Hills Local Area Command reported that approximately five cases of domestic violence are reported per week within The Hills, which equates to up to 245 cases per year. While those cases are seen to by the local police, many more go unreported.

As well as the immediate crisis, there are long term issues that need to be attended to when someone is put into this position – this can often involve having to leave their family home or worse their community, which can sometimes be quite difficult for the victim.

Transitional Housing provides refuge and protection to those, particularly women and children, escaping from abhorrent scenes of domestic and family violence, and needing a temporary and secure place to stay. It is important that residents feel safe, comfortable and secure in their community so they can rebuild self-esteem and make empowered and informed decisions about their lives.

Together, Mayor Yvonne Keane and The Hills Shire Council worked to create a potential mechanism to encourage and incentivise the provision of transitional housing within new residential development throughout The Hills. This mechanism proposes an additional clause to the Hills Local Environmental Plan 2012, and has been put forward to the Department of Planning and Environment for Gateway Determination. If agreed, this will enable further consultation with stakeholders and the community prior to being finalised.

How does it work?

For the policy to work effectively, the council decided that for a small portion of uplift in developments, particularly around the rail corridors, that an enormously large social issue could be solved.

A floor space incentive was therefore suggested, where developers can have the opportunity to incorporate a small portion of transitional housing in their high density development. The provision ensures that it would facilitate only a moderate uplift in residential yield, to prevent unreasonable impact on surrounding residents. The incentive would be voluntary and would ensure that the developer retains the ownership of the transitional homes.

The proposed provision will have the following characteristics:

  • The policy will only apply to residential flat buildings and shop top housing developments within the R4 High Density Residential, R1 General Residential or B4 Mixed Use zone;
  • The bonus floor space ratio will be available if the development includes a minimum of 50 dwellings (excluding ‘transitional group home dwellings’);
  • The bonus floor space shall not exceed 10 per cent of the maximum floor space ratio permitted on the site, up to a maximum of 900m2 gross floor area (capped regardless of the site area);
  • An additional 300m2 of gross floor area would be available for every ‘transitional group home’ provided, which would allow for two bonus dwellings (each with an average internal floor area of no less than 100m2 gross floor area) comprising:
  • One ‘transitional group home’ (to be used as a group home (subject to agreement with a suitable provider/s) and then returned to the developer after a period of use – potentially 10 years); and
  • Two standard dwellings above the yield otherwise achievable by the developer;
  • The maximum additional yield achievable within the bonus floor space will be nine dwellings (of which three would need to be a ‘transitional group home’);
  • The timing of the developer’s incentive is staged:
    • Upfront: two bonus (unrestricted) dwellings; and
    • After 10 years: one bonus dwelling (when use as a transitional dwelling has ceased).

The proposed provision has been prepared in consultation with service providers and the development industry.

Where is it at?

Transitional housing within The Hills was urged and supported by speakers Annabelle Daniel of Women’s Community Shelters, Detective Chief Inspector Jim Bilton from the Castle Hill Local Area Command, and Maria Kovacic from Hills Community Aid at the 25 July 2017 Council Meeting.

Their feedback was that all possible mechanisms are to be viewed as the need for a safe community is paramount, and it is council’s responsibility to consider pathways to keep women and children safe.

As a result of the overwhelmingly positive feedback from stakeholders and fellow councillors, a planning proposal is currently with the Department of Planning and Environment for Gateway Determination. Should a Gateway Determination be issued by the Department of Planning and Environment, the planning proposal will be exhibited for public comment. Council will then consider a post exhibition report and make a decision as to whether to progress the amendment to finalisation.

 

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