From the Newsroom

Good policy, or policy on the run

Geoff Helisma

A request by Clarence Village Limited (CVL), for Clarence Valley Council (CVC) to renew its commitment to pay CVL’s S64 developer water and sewer contributions, has resulted in the creation of a new CVC financial reserve titled ‘Affordable Housing’.

In December 2019, councillors supported CVL’s request for CVC to pay CVL’s section 64 contributions ($175,000), pending CVL making a successful application to the Building Better Regions fund, “to build 22 seniors affordable housing units … at the completion of the property transfer of 95 Armidale Road, South Grafton, to the ownership of CVL”.

The application was unsuccessful, however, CVL now owns the property and has “made submissions to Round 5 [of the Building Better Regions fund], as well as other funding rounds”.

At the August 24 CVC meeting, councillors spent a convoluted and sometimes unruly two hours reaching their final decisions, which resulted in the establishment of an “internal financial reserve titled ‘Affordable Housing’” and, subject to the development commencing by June 2023, CVC will transfer $237,600 from its “General Fund’s available balance of … working capital … to pay CVL’s S64 contributions”.

Paying the S64 contributions is “conditional on CVL providing the developed dwellings at affordable rental rates, as defined by CVC’s Affordable Housing Policy”, which CVC’s draft policy defines as “housing where rental or mortgage repayments do not exceed 30 per cent of gross household income [and] it is housing [that] can be rented or purchased by low to moderate-income earners”.

CVL has pledged to continue with its current practice of charging “seniors, who are eligible for Commonwealth rent assistance, 25 per cent of their single pension per fortnight” to cover their rent – there is no requirement to enter into a loan/licence agreement.

Councillors also resolved to broaden CVC’s future funding of affordable housing – at least in the context of its yet-to-be tabled draft affordable housing policy.

The draft policy was exhibited earlier this year; however, it does not prescribe investing money or land towards affordable housing; in fact, the draft policy (version 4) deleted that concept from the previous version 3, which was adopted in 2015.

The 2015 (and current) affordable housing policy advocates under the heading, Affordable Housing Partnerships, 6.5.1 Dedication of land and/or money: “CVC will seek to enter into affordable housing development and management partnerships with government, community and/or private sector entities to ensure…”

In any case, councillors resolved to: “Receive a report to the October council meeting that provides for an allocation [of money] in the Affordable Housing Policy … including a draft set of guidelines to which not-for-profit registered charitable organisations may apply for funding; and,

“Consider an annual General Fund allocation from available surplus working capital to the Affordable Housing Reserve during the preparation of future draft budgets.”

Councillor Andrew Baker proposed each of the successful motions and led the affirmative debates.

Councillor Karen Toms’s motion – “That Council not pay Clarence Village Limited’s S64 contributions on the development (DA2010/0592) at 95 Armidale Street, South Grafton.” – was only supported by councillors Clancy and Novak, each of whom said they were opposed to “using ratepayers’ money” to fund the Affordable Housing Reserve.

Cr Arthur Lysaught declared an interest and left the meeting.

It’s likely that CVC’s draft Affordable Housing Policy will have to be exhibited once again, come October when the requested report is tabled for a decision.