Minister over-rules residents concerns about building 57 tiny houses along Ballarat Road, Footscray

A proposal to build 57 houses along Ballarat Road, Footscray has been approved by the council supported by the minister.

Is it wise to be dropping building standards to increase the stock of affordable housing?

Whilst it is a good thing to increase affordable housing stock, is it really such a good thing to drop building standards in order to do so?  This is what this council has done, and what councils around the country are being pressured into doing.  Are we at risk of allowing panic, in the face of our massive housing crisis, to drive us into creating tomorrow’s slums?

Planning permission

The council was unanimous in its approval of the construction of 57 low cost units using 9 vacant blocks along a stretch of Ballarat Road, Footscray.

They were able to put through planning approval for the development of the following 3 sites before objections were made by local residents.

  • 151 Ballarat Road, Maidstone
  • 153 Ballarat Road, Footscray
  • 118 Ballarat Road, Footscray

The remaining  sites were held up by multiple objections from residents of the area, fueled via social media, The council overruled the objections based on the fact planning permission cannot be denied based on the likely nature of the tenants of the development. The objections must relate to the property itself, not the likely tenants.

The objectors found the necessary property related objections and took their case to VCAT.  Once the council became aware that the planning approval would be delayed for a significant period of time while the case went to VCAT, they appealed to the minister who over-ruled the objections and cleared the way for the approval for the development of the remaining sites.

  • 211 Ballarat Road, Footscray
  • 121 Ballarat Road, Footscray
  • 125 Ballarat Road, Footscray
  • 131 Ballarat Road, Footscray
  • 175 Ballarat Road, Footscray
  • 185 Ballarat Road, Footscray

The process for over-ruling the objections

The development does not conform to the council’s own standards for waste disposal and car parking.

Objections made by the locals against the development are summarised here. Some, such as the development failing to conform to the council’s own standards for waste disposal and car parking would seem to be legitimate.

http://thewestsider.com.au/two-sides-of-the-coin-the-launch-housing-project-debate-part-one/

The objections presented to VCAT can be viewed here.

https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0034/84886/Launch-Housing-Applications-for-Review-Advisory-Committee-Final-Report.pdf

This document explains the process by which the minister can overrule objections to a planning permit.

https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/planning-permit-applications/ministerial-permits/ministerial-interventions-in-permit-applications

The town planners for the project

Hansen Partnership, who planned the Nightingale developments, managed the planning permit application but have no ongoing involvement.

http://www.hansenpartnership.com.au/

The development of the units

Launch Housing are the owners of the development and once built, Launch will also manage the properties through HomeGround Real Estate.

https://www.launchhousing.org.au/

This is a quote from email correspondence with a staff member at Launch.

“The Units

These units will meet all applicable Australian residential building codes including acoustic engineering requirements and energy ratings. These architect-designed units will be purpose-built for the site. We have had structural engineers, architects and various consultants involved in the design, as well as input from people with a lived experience of homelessness.

The transportable units are designed with the following features:

  • Landscaping (public and private)
  • Access to public transport
  • 6-star energy rating
  • Communal spaces, courtyards and community gardens
  • Correct solar orientation and north facing windows for economical energy consumption”
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Architect’s design for the Launch Housing project – taken without permission from Domain.com article.

The management of the units

The properties will also be managed by Launch Housing.

In a very long and, at times, a little heated conversation with the manager of this project, I came to the following understanding.  The conversation became heated when I persisted in trying to get clarity on questions that I felt had been answered evasively, or about which I had not achieved clarity.

I was told that the possible tenants for this housing would be assessed using the normal Launch processes. They use a software system called VISPADT to assess applicants according to set criteria. Those being placed in the Ballarat Road housing will be those assessed as having low support needs, they will be mostly singles because of the size of the properties (26 square metres), and they will be assessed as being able to manage steps.

Does the assessment process assess the nature of the housing to ensure it is suitable for the applicants?

These units are located on a busy main road, that will be noisy and highly polluted, and in a decaying and potentially dangerous environment.  I tried to gain more clarity on whether the location of these units will be taken into account when determining who they are offered to.  In other words, does the assessment process assess the nature of the housing to determine it’s suitability for the applicants, or only assess the applicants for their suitability as a tenant? I did not achieve clarity on this. My best guess is that the nature of the housing is not taken into account when an applicant is assessed for suitability.

If this is the case, a person with an illness that might be worsened by being placed along a noisy and highly polluted main road may be offered one of these houses, which, in desperation, they might take rather than risk continuing homelessness. This is an all too frequent story that the public housing system is not addressing.

In addition, a single women could be placed in a set of units where the remaining tenants are men, which might be a very stressful living situation for any single woman.

In this development, these houses are known to be temporary. Main Roads must give 12 months notice of their intention to resume the land which will give Launch Housing 12 months also to ensure that they take every possible measure to find those tenants new housing.  However, if I have understood correctly, this will be done by placing them back on the Victorian Housing Register, so it is conceivable that they are not re-prioritised for housing and will not be successfully placed in that time. Again, I may have misunderstood what I was told, but this is my best understanding at present.  This is a quote from an equally evasive email sent to me by Launch which does nothing to clarify the situaiton.

“Tenants and Suitability

Possible tenants for this project will be assessed using normal Launch Housing processes.

 Our expectation is this housing will be available for a substantial period of time. If VicRoads needs the land back, we will have a priority commitment to all people living there to take every possible measure to find those tenants new housing. “

It has been my intention to assess any projects I research against a few criteria relating specifically to women.

  1. Is this development suitable for women?
    • I think not based on it’s location in a run down neighbourhood, and the absence of car parking which might mean parking a significant distance from a tenant’s property.
  2. Is this development suitable for those with health challenges?
    • I think not based on it’s location on a busy main road with the attendant noise and traffic pollution.
  3. Is this development suitable for emergency, mid term or long term housing?
    • Emergency and mid term only and unlikely to be suitable for vulnerable women and/or women escaping violence as no consideration will be made relating to gender in the placement of women .
If the same investment was made in a regional centre, larger tracts of government owned land could be obtained, close to city centres, and the same number of permanent and larger pre-fab houses could be built for a lower cost. This is not the best use of resources.

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