Last December, the Australian state government of New South Wales made an announcement that was supposed to be good news for affordable housing: It was going to expand the local inclusionary zoning program, known as SEPP 70, to five new Sydney-area municipalities.
Eight months later, however, several mayors say their plans to secure developer contributions have stalled since the state government made that announcement, Domain Media reports.
Simple bureaucracy could be to blame, although several officials see more sinister forces at play. City of Ryde mayor Jerome Laxale told Domain that the longer the government’s approval of inclusionary zoning rules stayed in application mode, “the more developers make money.”
As Next City has covered, inclusionary zoning regulations have been limited in Australia due to constraints in the country’s regional planning laws. Like inclusionary laws in the U.S. — which have been tied up in city council battles and preempted by state governments over the last few years — they’re generally regional or city-specific.
SEPP 70 is supposed to be one of the country’s more streamlined programs. But the mayors are experiencing a lag in enforcement. According to Domain, the five councils are still waiting for the state government to approve their separate inclusionary zoning proposals. The City of Ryde, for example, wants to have 750 new affordable units by 2031 through the program. Northern Beaches Council, meanwhile, has grown so frustrated with the delays that it’s begun negotiating with developers on an ad-hoc basis.
“They’re actually trying to get us to change our policy to [favor] developers more than the public,” Laxale told the paper. “They don’t like our percentages, they don’t like the inclusionary zoning, they don’t like that we want to capture affordable housing at the development application stage.”
New South Wales does have an incentive-based housing program for Sydney, as Next City has covered. Unlike the U.S., however, Australia’s national government doesn’t provide many subsidies (e.g. federal tax credits) to help developers. From the builders’ perspective, building below-market units is often seen as cost-prohibitive.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.