The ACT Government is considering allowing developers a bigger footprint or more storeys in apartment buildings than otherwise allowed in return for providing more affordable housing and better access for people with disabilities.
The possibility was raised on Friday in a discussion paper released by Housing Minister Yvette Berry which foreshadows a Territory Plan change to "increase the range of housing options".
The move "may subsequently increase the amount of affordable housing that is available", the paper says.
The paper is not clear on the details, but refers to "relaxing code requirements" and envisages new precinct codes to ensure a mix of housing. Asked for detail, a government spokesman said this could allow affordable housing close to employment areas.
Developers of high-rise apartment buildings could be offered extra floor space in return for more communal open space, more access for disabled people and the elderly, more affordable housing and more variety in unit sizes and types.
The spokesman said the reforms were "not an exhaustive list nor are they any more or less likely to be adopted under a new housing strategy. They are there to prompt a discussion so we can understand the community's views."
The paper also floats the idea of a shared equity scheme to help people buy homes, where the government takes a stake in the house.
The government has been under pressure on affordable housing, with industry groups accusing it of not releasing sufficient land, so pushing up prices and locking people out of the market.
The industry also opposes a new $30,000 development levy for new units in residential zones, which the Independent Property Group's David Shearer says will discourage people from building townhouses, the "missing middle" in Canberra's housing mix.
Ms Berry's discussion paper, which invites submissions until September 15, says Canberra is the most affordable city to buy or rent, and the government is releasing more land than needed, with 37,000 sites sold over the past 10 years for a demand of about 30,000.
But it concedes the city's prosperity "can conceal disadvantage", with 7000 low-income households in housing stress.
The government says of the 60,000 households which earn less than $100,000:
- 1700 are homeless.
- 9000 are living in public or community housing, with just under 1800 households waiting for public housing. The government was building a public housing complex for older indigenous people in Canberra's north, and redeveloping Gowrie Court in Narrabundah.
- 7000 are renting but their rent is more than 30 per cent of their income.
- 15,000 are renting at an affordable rate but need ways to buy their own home.
- 35,200 already own a home are are paying less than 30 per cent of their income in mortgage payments, with limited intervention needed.
The paper says Canberra's rental market is one of the most expensive in the country, and suggests incentives for private landlords to charge lower rent, through lower rates, stamp duty or land tax, and incentives to developers to build lower-cost rentals. The government is also looking at ways to boost Canberra's low supply of community housing.
It says the market may not be providing housing that meets the needs of people who want neither an apartment nor a four-bedroom house. And it floats an "innovation fund" for affordable housing, funded from the budget or the private sector.
Housing Industry Association regional director Greg Weller said the possibility of more floors or a bigger footprint for apartment developers in return for affordable housing was positive as long as it was a genuine extra, on top of the current planning rules. Forcing developers to provide a minimum percentage of affordable housing without incentives to compensate would simply push up the price of the other apartments, he said.
But the biggest challenges that must be addressed were the cost of land, and the weight of government charges, including the $30,000 development tax and the new Icon Water levy.
"These are that things that are really killing affordability," he said.
A former treasury official who has become a critic of the government on affordable housing, Khalid Ahmed, said the discussion paper failed to address the fundamental problem, of insufficient land. "Housing has become unaffordable because there's not enough land, that's the problem," he said, calling on the government to release the models it uses to claim otherwise.
The paper had no new ideas and lacked specifics, he said.
"It's just flying kites in the air," he said, of the suggested zoning and planning changes.
"Are we talking about allowing multi-unit developments where none are allowed, or are we talking about using community land for housing? We don't know. Does this mean you're going to allow micro blocks? I don't know, to be honest, I just just scratch my head ...
"The whole approach of asking people, "what do you think" isn't really helpful when they haven't identified the problem."