Help write housing affordability into our planning laws
As housing costs in the ACT continue to rise, housing affordability has never been more important to Canberrans.
Unfortunately, the ACT Government’s new Planning Bill, which is currently before the Legislative Assembly, relegates affordability to an afterthought.
That’s why we’re asking for your help to ensure that the rules that shape housing in our city reflect Canberra’s values by including affordable and abundant housing as core goals of the new Planning Bill.
Why is Greater Canberra campaigning on this issue?
The ACT’s Planning Act sets the rules and processes that guide urban planners in the ACT Government as they decide what can be built in the ACT and where it can be built.
The ACT Government is currently in the process of updating the Planning Act for the first time in 15 years, with the aim of making it easier to engage with and focused more on outcomes, rather than rules. As part of this, the Government is updating the objectives of the Planning Act, which will guide ACT planners as they shape the more detailed Territory Plan.
On the upside, the Government has included a number of important environmental and community objectives in the new Bill, including ecological sustainability, liveability, and prosperity.
But there’s a major issue - while housing affordability is mentioned briefly in the Bill, neither affordability nor adequate housing supply are included as core objectives, even though affordability is one of Canberrans’ chief concerns when it comes to housing policy.
If we want to ensure Canberra’s planning system reflects our city’s welcoming and inclusive values, we need to do better.
How can I help?
The Planning Bill is currently being considered by the ACT Legislative Assembly.
That’s why we’re asking our fellow Canberrans to join us in writing to their MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly), to let them know they care about housing affordability in the ACT, and want this reflected in our planning laws.
The easiest way to do this is to find one of your local MLAs on the Legislative Assembly website, and get in touch via phone or email.
What should I write in my comment?
Your letter or call to your MLA doesn’t haven’t to be long or complex - the most important thing is to let our representatives know that Canberrans care about housing affordability, and we want that reflected in our laws.
Keep it simple, keep it polite, and don’t be afraid to draw on your own experiences to explain why housing affordability matters to you. Personal stories are worth more than complex policy arguments.
To get you started, we’ve outlined a few key points that you might want to touch on:
Canberrans value our city’s welcoming, diverse culture and care about housing affordability.
Over the past five years, rents in Canberra have increased significantly faster than other Australian cities such as Melbourne and Sydney.
Combined with rapid growth in house prices, rising rents have locked many young families out of the market, and significantly increased financial stress for low-income Canberrans. Housing costs are rapidly becoming the chief driver of poverty in our city.
We need our planning laws to be designed with housing affordability in mind, to ensure that enough homes of all kinds are built in places where Canberrans want to live.
The ACT Legislative Assembly should amend the Planning Bill to include a strong commitment to ensuring abundant and affordable housing is available for all Canberrans.
If you want further ideas of topics to discuss, you’re welcome to peruse some of our previous blog posts on how planning impacts housing affordability in the ACT, or read our 2022-23 ACT Budget submission.
Greater Canberra is engaging directly with MLAs to advocate for a Planning Act that better represents Canberra’s values. We’ll also make a submission directly to the ACT Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Planning, Transport and City Services, as part of their inquiry into the bill.
What comes next?
The ACT Government has also released for consultation a draft Territory Plan that provides more detailed guidance on what types of homes can be built and where in the ACT. Greater Canberra is concerned that the current Territory Plan continues to block multi-family ‘missing-middle’ housing such as townhomes and row-houses across the vast majority of the ACT.
Greater Canberra will have more to say on the draft Territory Plan in the coming months. If you’re keen to help us out with our response to the Territory Plan, feel free to get in touch on our website, or DM us on one of our social platforms.
Which of my MLAs should I write to?
Each Legislative Assembly electorate elects 5 MLAs, so you’ll have 5 members who represent your area of the ACT.
This means that if there’s a particular party that you’re a member of, or feel closer to, you can write to that MLA.
However, it’s worth remembering that the current planning reforms are being introduced by the ACT Government, which is made up of both the Labor Party and the Greens.
The Minister introducing the new Planning Act is Mick Gentleman MLA (Member for Brindabella), while Jo Clay MLA and Peter Cain MLA (both Members for Ginninderra) are respectively the Greens and Liberal Party spokespeople for planning matters.
How does planning impact housing affordability?
In short, the ACT planning system makes it difficult to build enough housing to meet demand for new homes across Canberra. On 80% of ACT residential land it’s currently very easy to build a 6 bedroom mansion, but illegal to build a three-unit apartment building of exactly the same size. This means that in most of Canberra it’s impossible to build ‘missing middle’ homes such as small apartment buildings, terrace houses, or townhouses. Moreover, these restrictive laws impact social housing as well as market-rate development.
Numerous studies have shown that this kind of exclusionary zoning means less homes are built, which leads to lower vacancy rates and higher rents and house prices. Allowing more homes on expensive blocks of land in Canberra’s inner suburbs would also mean that instead of those blocks being reserved for expensive mansions, the cost of that land could be split between a number of owners, increasing the range of housing options available to low-income families.
How will an affordability objective help make housing more affordable?
The objectives included in the Planning Act matter because they inform the zoning and planning rules that ACT planning policymakers go on to write, alongside the Government’s Planning Strategy, which is updated every 5 years.
Importantly, unlike the Planning Strategy, the objectives included in the Planning Act can’t be changed without new legislation in the ACT Legislative Assembly, which means they’re less subject to change based upon the wishes of the government of the day.
Including affordability and adequate housing supply as objectives of the new Planning Act will mean that the new Territory Plan - and any future changes to the Plan made by planning policymakers - must consider the impact on housing affordability and housing supply. It’s certainly not a silver bullet - more advocacy will still be needed to ensure planning rules actually reflect the objectives of the new Planning Act - but it lays the groundwork for a more positive planning system that prioritises building more homes.