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May 01 2018

We need more affordable living, instead of affordable housing

“For too long Governments have focused on funding affordable living, meaning many Australian’s have been left in ‘affordable housing’ apartments with high utility costs. This results from poor design, because developers of affordable housing are not incentivised to focus on passive solar design and reduce heating and cooling costs, whilst increasing things like daylight and natural airflow. Instead, many build cheaply to maximise returns which leaves those who can least afford high on-going building costs with years of expensive bills to pay.” said Ben O’Callaghan some 8 years ago and now Government is starting to listen.

By focusing on long-term affordable living solutions, more can be achieved than focusing primarily on mechanisms to decrease housing capital costs, which is the focus of many affordable housing policies. To help move the industry forward, affordable living solutions of various forms (including requirements for better design) should be also be a focus, instead of merely affordable housing.

The affordable living approach is more holistic and ensures that people can access housing that is so well designed that it enables occupants to experience much lower operational costs, in energy, water and health expenses. For example, solar energy, water efficiency measures and more natural daylight, which can combat depression, or using non-toxic materials to avoid illnesses related to off-gassing materials. Currently the future cost burden is passed on to occupants, as sub-par design makes it almost impossible to reduce utility costs, because orientation, insulation levels and window types etc were poorly considered and are fixed once constructed. The other side effect of poor design is that housing stock needs to be replaced substantially more often which will only accelerate with future changes in climate.

Designers like Smart Urban Villages are planning to provide affordable living solutions, not capital-cost focused affordable housing. The ACT Government is also now considering innovative policies to target the missing-middle through their Housing Choices initiative and specifically their demonstration housing project.