Byron Council is aiming to make 10 per cent of local housing genuinely affordable within the space of a decade, under a brave and ambitious plan to implement a Community Land Trust (CLT) model across the Shire.
But some councillors are concerned that the model Council has chosen for the Trust will limit its ability to access finance and deliver housing efficiently.
Following an extended debate at last Thursday’s planning meeting, councillors voted to significantly extend the scope of the proposed CLT and penned some of the details for how it will work.
With staff having initially proposed a venture with the relatively modest goal of putting affordable housing on two Council-owned sites in Mullumbimby, councillors are now effectively proposing an alternative housing market.
During the course of the meeting, it emerged that this more ambitious plan had in fact been under discussion within the corridors of Council for some time, including meetings with State Government ministers and advisors to help smooth the way.
‘It’s time for a new option in land ownership in the Byron Shire,’ Labor councillor Paul Spooner said.
‘We must do things differently, because the investment of the globally wealthy in this Shire has created a housing crisis.
‘Most people on low-to-middle incomes in the Byron Shire will never own property here. We need to create a new housing market to give them a chance.’
The CLT model
Under the CLT model being pursued, a Council-controlled company, Byron Shire Council Community Land Trust, would hold land for the development of local housing that meets the needs of the community.
Unlike profit driven private developers, the trust would be constitutionally required to serve the community.
As a land-holding Trust, it would be able to offer housing for rent or purchase at a rate that is affordable for those on low to middle incomes.
This would be based on the widely used benchmark that a household should not have to pay more than 30 per cent of its income on rent or mortgage repayments.
Council would be the majority shareholder of the Trust but with an independent board to be appointed through an Expression of Interest Model.
‘The board would be responsible for all aspects of running the Trust including the development of a comprehensive business plan with an annual report to council on achievement of the Trust’s objectives and affordable housing outcomes,’ the resolution passed at last week’s meeting states.
However Greens councillor Sarah Ndiaye expressed concern that this model might limit the Trust’s ability to access finance to obtain land and build houses.
She quoted Mike Myers from the Brisbane Housing Company – a leading provider of affordable housing – who said of Byron’s proposed model ‘it could work, but the structure and arrangements make delivery and financing harder than it needs to be, and I guess that will be reflected in the cost, speed and efficiency of delivery’.
Of particular concern, Cr Ndiaye said, was the possibility that the trust’s structure might prevent it from accessing funding and support from the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, a government-controlled corporation designed to help increase housing supply across the country.
‘I think we really need this clarified by those people who provide this type of funding,’ Cr Ndiaye said.
‘Because if we get ministerial approval for this model, and we set it all up and then we discover that we can’t get finance, well then we’re just setting ourselves back.’
But this argument was rejected by the mover of the motion, Cr Paul Spooner, and Mayor Simon Richardson.
‘The bottom line is that we need to get this going,’ Cr Richardson said.
‘We need to do every single thing within our realms of possibility to get affordable housing for our community.
‘The tweaks can occur as we move on. Lets start.’
Mayor Richardson also said that he and Council staff had met with ministers and senior advisors to get them on board, a comment echoed by Council’s Head of Planning, Shannon Burt, who indicated that staff had spoken to ministerial advisors and the Office of Local Government in developing the proposed model.
When combined with Cr Spooner’s comment that the CLT had been ‘in discussion for five years, albeit behind closed doors,’ it became clear that the project was far from a spur-of-the-moment plan to address the housing emergency, but has been quietly brewing for some time.
The next step
With the majority of councillors voting to support the proposed model except Cr Alan Hunter, Council will now seek approval from the Minister for Local Government to set up the Byron Shire Council Community Land Trust.