Last week hundreds of local residents gathered in Summer Hill to express their concerns about the proposal to build a 105-room boarding house development at 55 to 63 Smith Street, Summer Hill.
This is just the latest in a long line of boarding house developments proposed in our area.
Residents are concerned about this proposal having very little to do with increasing the availability and quality of affordable housing in the inner west and just being another cash grab by developers trying to make a buck off the back of people in housing distress and exploiting a loophole in the New South Wales planning system.
We know that delivering more affordable housing is critical to building healthy, diverse and vibrant communities.
Boarding houses provide important options for people experiencing housing insecurity; however, they can expose residents to exploitation and exacerbate the other pressures they may face.
In this space I acknowledge the very important work of the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre's Boarding House Outreach program, which supports boarding house tenants across the inner west every day.
The issue is that, in many cases, the boarding house developments currently before our councils are not actually boarding houses but rather shoebox apartments no bigger than jail cells, without rent controls or other oversight to ensure they are housing the people who need the most support.
Communities across Greater Sydney hold serious concerns regarding the quality of housing provided through backdoor planning provisions overseen by the Government. Even conservative councils have called out this situation.
Hills Shire mayor Michelle Byrne has described developers' moves to approve boarding house developments as "doing sneaky things".
Michael Regan, mayor of the Northern Beaches, has described the State Government's rules governing boarding house developments as "a horror".
I note reports on the weekend saying, following the very good work of the member for Coogee, that these developments contribute to freezing out essential workers from the city, with apartments priced well above what is affordable for frontline workers such as our teachers, nurses, cleaners and emergency service workers.
I acknowledge that the Government has taken steps to address many of these issues through the design of the new Housing Diversity State Environmental Planning Policy [SEPP], but it will not fix what has already been built in communities across our city.
Nor will the new SEPP address the fact that developers are rushing to gain approval for these high-density blocks before changes to the SEPP come into effect, including at 55 to 63 Smith Street in Summer Hill.
It is just another example of a developer proposing high-density apartments while avoiding the usual requirements to invest in community infrastructure, with little or no requirement for the housing to be actually affordable.
The Smith Street development proposes replacing prime industrial land with a high-density housing block with next to no common space, no green space and very little internal open space.
It does not retain any retail or employment opportunities currently available on the site. The apartments proposed are incredibly small, with many only marginally larger than the national minimum standard for a two-person jail cell.
What is most disappointing is that these apartments will not actually be affordable. There will be no maximum cap on rental prices. In fact, they are likely to be rented at market value as studios. Most would consider that affordable housing would be operated by good community-housing providers, of which we have many across the inner west, but these apartments will actually be managed by real estate agents LJ Hooker.
The application should be rejected because it erodes the stock of employment lands in the inner west, it inappropriately applies the SEPP guidelines and, most importantly, it fails the residents it proposes to house.
While the community eagerly awaits more certainty around the housing diversity SEPP, it is critical that we do not allow rushed, substandard applications to sail through under the current planning instrument.
The Minister must act to close the developers' back door to high-density apartments not just in the future but right now.
I also challenge the Government to act now to improve housing affordability for the most vulnerable in our community.
That should include mandating inclusionary zoning targets in new developments. The Government should abolish no-fault evictions, giving tenants critical protections.
The Government should follow the Victorian Government's lead and build more public social housing. We have to stop the sale of existing public housing, including in Glebe.
We need urgent action to stem the rising number of older women facing homelessness in our State.
The Government must properly regulate boarding houses and ensure that developments under the new SEPP meet community expectations and actually serve the people who live in them.