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Monday, 30 October 2017

Wentworth Park rough sleepers get housing

Earlier this month I reported that the rough sleepers in Wentworth Park, Ultimo, had been moved on from where they had their tents set up under the railway viaduct's arches. I contacted the City of Sydney Council and they said that the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) had conducted some outreach for the residents in the park. I contacted the department and they told me:
FACS, in partnership with City of Sydney and a number of NGOs, conducted outreach at Wentworth Park to offer temporary accommodation and housing to people who are homeless.  
A total of 29 people in Wentworth Park accepted offers of temporary accommodation. FACS is now working with them to access permanent long term housing. From late March to the end of September 2017, 165 people previously sleeping rough in Martin Place, Belmore Park and Wentworth Park have been housed in long term permanent accommodation. 
FACS undertakes regular outreach in partnership with homelessness services with the view that the sooner people enter into permanent housing with support, the higher the chance that they will not return to homelessness.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

By tolerating homeleessness "we're shutting down our own humanity"

This is the latest in a series of blogposts about homelessness. This time, I spoke with Sam Tsemberis on the phone from New York, where he started a successful program in 1992 called 'Housing First'. He added to the interview with a few edits by email as well.

MdS: So I’ve been writing about homelessness on my blog for a couple of months now and I came across the Housing First initiative which started in the US but now it seems to be being used by other countries like Finland. Can you give me a little bit of a history about Housing First? Where it started and why?

Well it started in 1992, that’s about 25 years ago. And it started in New York City. At the time, I was working in an outreach program and having a great deal of difficulty because it was near-impossible to find programs to refer people to. I was working with people who were either literally on-the-street homeless or using public spaces and parks or – in the wintertime – transportation terminals, or sometimes drop-in centres for the homeless. So, it was a very particular group among the homeless population but probably the one that the general public think of when they hear the word homeless. However, this group represents only about 20% of the population. 

The outreach program was based in Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital – because the people we were particularly interested in were people who were not only homeless, but who also had a psychiatric disability – mental health issues. So, it was people with psychiatric disabilities who happened to be homeless. And that’s the group that we had a hard time engaging because they didn’t really want to go to hospital, and even if they did go to hospital the hospital would hold onto them for a couple of weeks and then discharge them back into homelessness. When we would try to refer them to one of the few existing housing programs, it was impossible to get them accepted because the programs were under the assumption that people who had a history of mental illness need to be seeing a psychiatrist, taking medication, and living in residential settings that were supervised. These programs were under the misconception that the mental illness meant that people were unable to manage housing on their own and really needed to live in supervised settings.

So, the people we were dealing with on the streets were not desirable applicants for the existing housing providers who required psychiatric treatment, sobriety, and program compliance as a precondition for offering housing. The people who were applying wanted housing and they were either unwilling or unable to participate in treatment or attain sobriety. Those were the conditions in which Housing First was started. It was clear we needed a new approach to solve this problem.

MdS: So, you found that you had all these people with secondary problems as well as homelessness and how did you go about approaching … I guess you approached the government for assistance or the city council or something? Who did you get support from in a financial sense?

First we had to design a program that would solve the problem. Then we approached the government for funding. Programs that provide housing and supports are typically funded by the government because they require a long-term funding commitment.  In the case of Housing First, we wrote a grant application for something called Supported Housing which provided money for rent and case-management services. And we wrote that grant to the New York State Office of Mental Health. It was like the mental health ministry, I guess you would say. It was a competitive grant and we were fortunate enough to win one. That funding for rent and support services was how we got started.

MdS: So this was back in 1992, is that right?

That’s correct, yes.

MdS: Since then, has the state continued to fund the Housing First initiative?

Well, I mean a lot’s happened since 1992. It wasn’t even called “Housing First” when we started. We called it “the apartment program”. And in some of the grants I wrote it was called “the consumer preference independent living model” because I was trying to be very specific about what the thing was.

Look, what really created the program, the real success of this program, was the idea behind Housing First – initially, I didn’t know it was going to be a success to tell you the truth, but we were willing to take a chance at it – and the idea came from a change in mindset. It wasn’t really a change in housing that created Housing First.   

What created Housing First was a shift in approach we took in how to provide housing and services to this group of people. And the shift came because we essentially had to admit that what we were doing in the past wasn’t working. And so we changed our approach and engaged people by asking them for their advice and asking them what they thought we should do to help them address their problems. 

So, Housing First is often talked about in terms of a homelessness intervention, or a homelessness ending kind of program, but really the intention was for it to be a systems-changing program but not so much around the homelessness but around the idea of putting people with mental illness in charge of their lives. And once we did that they quickly pointed out that housing and then treatment was really a much better sequence. All we had to do after that was kind of create the program design to make that possible.

MdS: I guess in Australia what normally happens with homelessness is that the federal government pays the money to the state government and the state government supervises the activities of housing providers. So how does that work in the US, or in New York? I guess it’s different in each state, is that right?

Yes, but there is a general pattern between the federal government and the states. There is some money that is provided by the federal government – because they usually collect the highest percentage of taxes – they provide, for example for services for the poor that is paid for by Medicaid; the federal government would pay 50 percent, the state would pay 25 [percent] and the municipality would pay 25 [percent]. That’s the way it goes.

In the realm of homeless services, what happened with Housing First over time is that, you know, initially – the first five or six years – we were just figuring out how to run the program. And then we realised, “This thing is working really well, we should expand it, we should tell people about it.” And when we went and explained how the program worked, we had also conducted some research studies – so we had data about its effectiveness – people didn’t really believe us.

Even with all that, other providers thought that we were taking people that were much easier to serve than the ones they were serving or that we had easier access to housing or a bunch of other excuses for not believing us and not changing their ways. They just couldn’t believe that people could go from the streets right into an apartment and with some support manage to have a life in the community like everyone else. So, we continued doing studies to build the evidence for effectiveness.

In 1997, we conducted a randomised control trial with a colleague at New York University. It was a true trial – you know: 225 people, half were randomly assigned to Housing First and half were assigned to the existing treatment and sobriety and then housing programs – and the results were spectacularly successful in support of the Housing First program. About 84 percent of the people that were housed by Housing First got housed much more quickly and also stayed housed. Whereas, in the other group, it took almost three times as long to get housed and less than  half of the people housed. I mean, the housing stability rate after two years was something like 40 percent in the traditional model, compared to 84 percent in the Housing First model (I don’t remember the exact number but it was something of that magnitude, it was a huge difference).

And so, when the studies were published in the American Journal of Public Health – you know, peer-reviewed journals, including Psychiatric Services – that changed the conversation about this program. People began, instead of saying, “It wouldn’t work here,” or, “You’re not working with our people,” they would say, “Would you come over and help us figure out how to do it here? How do you fund it?  How do you get started? How do you work with landlords? How do you provide the support services?” So, it really was a big, big shift. About 10 after its inception several factors coalesced to create substantial efforts in dissemination in the US.

And soon after that it began to gain interest in other countries, initially Canada and then Europe, especially western and northern nations. Not so much in Australia. There was one program in Sydney called [Platform 70], and the City of Sydney and a group called the Bridge Housing, a property management group, partnered to operate a very good program in Woolloomooloo, actually. And even though they had very good results the city never really jumped on that to duplicate it or to expand it. I’m not sure what happened there. There was another group in Melbourne, the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia, that also liked the idea and they began a Housing First program called Opening Doors, I believe.

But it seems in Australia there’s a lot of political and policy support for something called Common Ground, which builds large single-site buildings and offers tenancy to the poor and homeless. That seems to be more of a predominant model there, for some reason, even though there’s not a lot of data supporting its effectiveness.

MdS: I’ll have a look into those. Thank you very much. I just wanted to ask another question. When I read your website it appeared to me that what you do is you take people and you put them into apartments in the broader community and then you wrap services around them to make sure that they stay housed. Is that correct?

Totally correct. Remember. this is a program designed to reflect the client’s preferences.  Most people want to live in ordinary apartments integrated into the community. They do not want to live in a program. So, tenants live in apartments, pay 30 percent of their disability income towards their rent, meet the terms and conditions of a standard lease, get home visits from support services workers, and manage a life in the community, living like everyone else. 

MdS: So, when you say you put them into the community how do you get those apartments, do you have like inclusionary zoning?

You need the grant money for the rent supplement program. Rent is subsidized by government grants. It is like social housing but integrated into the community. The program provides money for the rent subsidy and also pays for the support services. The program rents apartments at the lower end of the real estate market – so you’re basically looking for a cheap, decent, affordable apartment in the neighbourhood that the client would know or find desirable. You ask the client for their preference and you try as best you can to find a place that they would like.

So that’s how we do it. We’re beating the streets and knocking on doors and asking landlords to rent to us. We have the advantage that we can tell landlords that there’s someone to support this tenancy, that rent payment is assured by the agency, that the person renting this apartment is supported by the agency and that if there’s an issue with the tenancy there’s someone to call. That helps landlords feel comfortable renting to the program.

MdS: So, when you approach the landlords they know who’s going to be living in their apartment, right?

More or less. It’s not specific. You don’t want to discuss the tenant’s personal information. You say that you’re a program that helps people find housing and you want to make sure the tenancy goes well, so you look after things, and there’s someone to call, and you’ll be assured of the rent and if there’s an issue at all please call us. Like that. It’s not like descriptive of what happened to the person or if they had a history of hospitalisation or anything like that. None of that information is disclosed to the landlord, no.

MdS: I don’t know if you’ve read about it in the newspapers but in Sydney and Melbourne especially we’ve had a big increase in immigration in Australia and so rental and also property prices are going up very sharply. There seems to be in the last five years or so an increase in homelessness as a result of that. But now the state government in NSW is starting to talk to developers to get them to put aside some apartments for – I guess what you’d call – rent-controlled apartments.

Yes. That’s a great idea.

MdS: That’s what is happening here because it’s so expensive now in the big cities.

I think that it is expensive everywhere. If we’re not going to build or set aside – either build exclusively like they do a lot in Europe, they build social housing and you have to qualify for tenancy based on your income, and a very good way to address the affordability crisis in housing - as long as housing remains a for-profit commodity we are subject to market forces. This is pretty much the case in most Western countries – and if we’re not going to build affordable housing we’re going to have increases in homelessness. What we should be doing is operating housing as if it is a basic human right. That is what Housing First does: offers housing as a matter of right not because you are meeting certain treatment or other preconditions.

If more western countries change their approach from housing as product in the marketplace to providing housing as a basic human right, the government would have to assume more responsibility in regulating and providing affordable housing for all its citizens.

I think that this Housing First program – to the extent that it informs that conversation – it’s not a program that is about housing per se, but it’s a housing program model that says by way of the evidence from its research that you don’t have to build group homes and you don’t have to have people supervised 7/24. People want to live in normal housing, integrated settings in the community. It’s more dignified, it’s more effective and it also is much cheaper to the taxpayer to do it this way.

We’ve learned a great deal about people’s capabilities. You know, someone who is surviving homelessness, and the person has a mental illness and addiction problem, but who is also able to figure out where it’s safe to sleep and where to get a meal on the streets of a city, can certainly manage an apartment of their own. So, it informs the kind of housing and the kind of services this particularly vulnerable group of people needs.

MdS: I guess what I’m hearing here is that when you said earlier that there was a shift in your thinking when you were setting up the program, from giving services to asking what services were required, that was a big paradigm shift. Is that right?

That’s correct. And I think, to the extent that Housing First has created a paradigm shift that conceptually is the paradigm shift. What is manifest as the paradigm shift is that you see people with all kinds of clinical problems going into housing. That’s the manifestation but it’s not the shift. The actual shift is that those people are actually in charge of the decision-making in their own lives, possibly for the first time. And also, they’re probably moving into an apartment of their own for the first time, have always wanted one but either that option was not available to them or they were just too poor to be able to afford one.

MdS: I think I’ve got a clearer picture now. What do you think? Is there anything else that you’d like to add to what you’ve already said that might be informative for my readers?

Are your readers the general public?

MdS: Yes.

I don’t know if this makes sense, Matthew, but I think that one of the things that’s occurred to me is that we have done something that is hurting us by allowing homelessness to continue for as long as it has. Especially because we know how to cure it. It’s not like we don’t know how to fix it, we actually know how to end homelessness for everybody. If we can end homelessness for the group of people we’ve been talking about we could end it for everyone. But in particular for this group of people, we know we can end it and we haven’t.

And as long as we don’t end it, I think what we’re doing is in some ways shutting down our own humanity because it takes a certain level of cutting yourself off from your empathy to be able to walk past a homeless person. This is not about the suffering of the person who’s homeless. This is about the rest of the folks who are walking past them, and they are making themselves into smaller, less-feeling human beings in order to tolerate homelessness. And I think that if we really would focus on this and not allow homelessness to be part of the urban landscape, we would all feel a lot better.

MdS: Just one more question? That was for the general reader, but what would you like to say to the government authorities in Australia to make them take Housing First more seriously?

Well I guess I would say that if you wanted a solution to homelessness that was cheaper than shelters and cheaper than emergency rooms and cheaper than arresting people - and not only cheaper but more humane and more effective - then you should consider Housing First as the primary policy for your homelessness interventions.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Fixing homelessness: "Do it once and do it right"

As part of a series of blogposts on homelessness, I spoke with Digby Hughes of Homelessness NSW, the peak body for the sector in the state. This interview is the result of that conversation.

MdS: So, [the voice recorder is] recording. So, I was looking into homelessness a little bit and I found the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) pages about homelessness. They go back to about 2001 …

That’s right, yes.

MdS: … to make meaningful comparisons. The 2016 census figures are coming out later this year, but there seems to have been a change in policy around 2008 at the ABS with the Road Home report. How important was that report, do you think?

That was a very important [indecipherable] it actually put homelessness on the national agenda for the first time. Homelessness NSW believes very strongly that governments need to have plans to end homelessness. And in those plans you need to have targets. And we actually have a plan and targets [indecipherable] in this, but that’s another matter. But at least if you have a target then you can hold government accountable to meet that target. So that’s why we think that was important.

It actually had some new money attached to it that enables services to try some innovative, different practice. And we think that’s also a good thing as well because services are funded to provide a service, but to try something different, you know, takes more resources. And we don’t know what we don’t know, I suppose I’d put it. So, if I want to try something different I just can’t go and do that with my existing resources which the government funds me to do in a particular way. So, having some extra funding involved was good.

The other good thing about it was you actually had some housing involved. We actually got over 6000 new social housing dwellings in NSW, and that was the largest increase we’ve had in, you know, public housing, social housing in NSW for many, many years.

MdS: That was as a result of the Road Home report, was it?

That was part of the nation building, so it was at the same time. We also then unfortunately had the global economic crisis, and part of that was the nation-building program of the federal government at the time, and that included additional money then for public housing across the country.

MdS: One thing that Kate [Colvin of the Council to Homeless Persons] mentioned to me was the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which seems to be an annual or bi-annual agreement between the federal government and the states on funding of services for homelessness. Is that a correct understanding?

It was. It’s now been rebranded under the new government. So, it was the NAHA [(National Affordable Housing Agreement)], now what’s it called – good question – it’s the NAHHA. So, it’s the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. So, a rebadging. And that’s an approach that’s currently being discussed between the federal and the state governments.

MdS: Is there any extra money in recent times coming from the federal government?

We don’t believe so.

MdS: The figure for [the] 2011 census is about 105,000 people homeless in Australia. How accurate do you think that is, and do you expect that figure to go up in the 2016 census count?

Look, good question. NSW is probably most of that. So, the NSW figure is about 28,000. Is it accurate? Well, it’s as accurate as it can be. The good thing is that the Bureau of Statistics uses the same methodology to find people who are homeless. If they use the same methodology they’ll get the same answer every time, rightly or wrongly. At least it’ll [reflect] growth and decline.

Is it as accurate as it can be? Probably not. I’ll go through some of the groups of people who are homeless. Rough sleepers are very difficult as a group of people to find, often. You know, because they’re not … The full name of the census is ‘The census on population and housing’ so [indecipherable] aren’t houses. They’re not in the census anyway. So, you’ve got rough sleepers who are hard to count, including people who are in the bush. We know that there’s a large number of largely males who sleep in the bush in various caves and whatever mostly around Sydney, all around NSW. So, I don’t believe they’re counted in the census. We know that older women – or women in general but – older women in particular who are rough sleeping don’t sleep at night, they move around during the night and they sleep during the day in more public spaces, for reasons of safety. So, they’re hard to count.

The other group I think would be very hard to count is couch-surfing, because [indecipherable] younger people, you know, “Do I know” – if I’m filling in the census form online – “is that male adult in the house, do I know that’s my daughter’s friend who is staying at our house for a few days, do I know whether he’s couch-surfing, [or is he] not at home because it’s unsafe, or is he just staying with a girlfriend for a few days?” And the other group is people in severely overcrowded dwellings, which in NSW is the fastest-growing group of homelessness. And again, I’m not sure how accurate that figure is.

I think they’re all under-counts, I’ll put it that way. So, the figure was 28,000. In those three groupings in particular I think we’ve got an under-count. And it’s no-one’s fault, it’s not to blame anybody, but I think they’re difficult areas to count. So, I think for rough sleepers, for couch-surfing and for overcrowded dwellings, I think there’s probably an under-count. But if the methodology stays the same then I think at least you’ll get the same reflection of the data flow, if that makes sense.

Do we expect the number to go up? Well, yes. And for a couple of reasons. One, we’ve got over 110 members across the state - Homelessness NSW - our members have been telling us consistently the numbers are increasing. The number of clients that they are seeing has been increasing, and continues to increase. And that they are new and different people, they’re not people who’ve been in the service system [before]. And it’s largely driven by the lack of affordable housing. On anecdotal evidence from our members – and in 2011 they were telling us that the numbers were going to go up from 2006, and they were right then, you know - we’ve got no reason to doubt them.

The other thing we know is that the City of Sydney does a street count. So, it’s only in Sydney and only the rough sleepers, but it’s accurate data. And they do that twice a year in August and in February, and the August data is collected a few days either side of the census. And between August 2011 and August 2016 the number of people sleeping rough in the City of Sydney went up 28 percent. On the only hard data we have, plus the anecdotal data, we suspect the numbers will be higher.

MdS: The ABS uses five different categories to count homelessness, and these are are: sleeping rough, in emergency accommodation, living in accommodation for the homeless, living in non-conventional dwellings due to lack of housing, and living temporarily with family or friends due to lack of housing. A lot of countries don’t have such a complete compass for their counting. How justified do you think the ABS is to have such a broad set of categories for counting the homeless?

I think they’re very justified in doing that, because we know that homelessness is not just rooflessness. It’s not just a matter of not having a roof over your head. It’s a matter that you don’t have a permanent place to call home. So, if you’re a victim of domestic violence, if you’re a woman escaping domestic violence and you are staying at a friend’s house for safety – to save your life – then you don’t have your own home. So, you might have a roof over your head that night, you might be able to have a shower, but you’re not in your home. You’re not in a home. The same as people in overcrowded dwellings, that’s when there are four or more bedrooms short of a standard. With these you are looking at 14 or 15 people in a two-bedroom apartment, that sort of thing. Again, it’s not a home as we see it under the Australian standard.

MdS: I wanted to talk about these schemes that developers have for increasing the yield on developments that they plan, in cooperation with the state government. So, if the state government gets some low-cost housing they will increase the number of apartments that they allow developers to …

Inclusionary zoning.

MdS: Inclusionary zoning, is that what’s it’s called?

Yes. Look, we’re generally very supportive of inclusionary zoning. We see inclusionary zoning around the world being operated, in London in particular, Vancouver, other cities around the world have inclusionary zoning and it’s a very good way of supplying affordable housing. And it’s got to be done in cooperation with the development sector. So, you build from day one. No-one likes surprises in life, big surprises. So, looking at a block of land and that block of land’s going to be redeveloped, and if you say, “Well, 30 percent of that has to be affordable housing.” And a lot of that then depends on the location and the services available. So, the closer to transport, the closer to education, the closer to jobs, the higher the level of affordable housing. Which makes sense.

MdS: Are you saying that the council will give them a bigger yield because of those things?

Yes. Well, we think they should. They can’t right now. We don’t have any inclusionary zoning in NSW.

MdS: Oh, we don’t? I thought the state government was doing that.

Oh, they’re talking about it.

MdS: Oh, they’re talking about it, they haven’t done it yet?

No. (See note at end of this blogpost.)

MdS: There’s another scheme that I’ve heard of in the Hills Shire. Have you heard of this scheme where the mayor and the council are working with developers and the state government to do something similar and what happens is the developers get extra yield if they give up apartments for a period of 10 years rent-free for what’s called transitional housing.

Transitional housing, that’s right. We’re doing that in cooperation with the Women’s Committee shelters and Bridge [Housing], a community housing provider out there. That’s, again, a good scheme. Anything that produces an additional supply of affordable housing is a good thing. If you’re from Sydney you know as well as I do, you know, the cost of housing in Sydney is through the roof. It’s the number one reason why people are becoming homeless. They just can’t afford to find a place to live.

MdS: Yes, housing is very expensive.

Among our concerns – and we have a number – is the lack of planning for when – and we do know it’s when – interest rates increase. We have a lot of people who have got a lot of household debt on properties that they can service right now. They can service the mortgage. If interest rates go up 2, 3, 4, 5 percent we’ve got a different crisis, a new crisis, out there.

The lack of affordable housing is in Sydney but it’s also regional. I mean, if you go to the far north coast - you know, Byron Bay, Tweed Heads area, Ballina, down to Coffs Harbour, that entire strip up there, from there north - the cost of housing up there is not that dissimilar to Sydney. It’s a state-wide issue.

MdS: Are there any other things that we haven’t covered that you think I should know about?

Well, I think the thing what we need to do in Sydney, in NSW, is to look at internationally what works to end homelessness. And various cities in various countries, they’ve actually adopted policies that have worked. I mean, Finland. It’s always good to look at different countries. And Finland, a number of years ago, adopted what’s called Housing First. That’s a scheme where people who are homeless are given a house and unconditional support to keep them housed. So, if it’s a mental health issue, if it’s an alcohol or other drug, if it’s whatever the issue is, you wrap the support around them. And Finland has basically ended chronic rough sleeping.

Utah has done the same, in America. Various cities in America. Vancouver’s doing this. Other cities are doing this and it is working. We believe that if you want to actually end homelessness – which we want to do, not just manage people who are homeless, but stop homelessness - you actually look at international evidence, see what works, and replicate it.

MdS: I guess one of the problems though with comparing different countries, is that different countries have got different ways of counting the homeless. So, Finland counts, for example, people who are living in prisons as homeless. So does Sweden, but we don’t in Australia.

Well we might as well because they end up being back homeless. It’s almost a revolving door of homelessness. Out of prisons, onto the street, back into prisons. But if you actually look at a Housing First approach you can say … We know that people in prison have literacy and numeracy issues, there’s mental health issues, there’s acquired brain injury, there’s a whole range of issues. So, start addressing those issues while people are in prison and continue to work with them, and as they leave prison effectively house them, not put them back out onto the street, not put them into the homeless service system, but put them in a house and give them support. It is that simple. Frighteningly that simple.

MdS: It’s just a matter of getting the Murdoch press and the politicians to agree to open the treasury a little bit wider and get more money into the system, I guess.

But it saves money in the long term, which is one of those odd things in life. You spend money today to save money in the future. And also, you could spend money differently. We recently had an academic here in Sydney and he gave a very good paper, which I can send you a copy of.

MdS: What’s his name?

Eoin O’Sullivan. And he compared Finland, Ireland and it might have been Sweden – I can’t remember now – all basically similar-sized countries spending the same amount of money on homelessness, but Finland is getting much better results because they’re actually spending it on a Housing First approach, they’re not just putting people in temporary accommodation or transitional accommodation, or anything else. They’re actually putting them into permanent, supported housing. It’s not just a matter of saying, “I want to spend money.” We understand that, this is an organisation. But you also have to spend money the best way.

MdS: Do it properly.

That’s right. As I was told as a child, “Do it once and do it right.”

MdS: That’s right.

I remember my mother and father both telling me that.

MdS: My father used to say the same thing.

Intuitively we know that. And you can actually stop spending money on prisons if you have less people going into the prison system out of being homeless. You actually save money. It’s cheaper to house people in a house than in a prison.

MdS: Just like it’s cheaper to have people go to the GP rather than the hospital.

That’s right. And prevention. Homelessness prevention. That’s the other part of it. We all know that. If I go and get regular check-ups at the dentist, it’s a lot cheaper than waiting til I need [a] triple root-canal operation. And less painful.

----------------------------------------------------

Note

After speaking with Digby Hughes, I asked the NSW Department of Planning and Environment about inclusionary zoning, and whether they had it as part of their portfolio of programs to deal with homelessness. They replied:
Inclusionary zoning exists via the state environmental planning policy for affordable housing revised schemes, known as SEPP 70 [(State Environmental Planning Policy 70)]. The City Of Sydney Council has affordable housing schemes operating under SEPP70 in Ultimo/Pyrmont, Green Square and Southern Employment Lands.  
Together the schemes have resulted in 739 affordable rental homes for very low to moderate income households. A further 314 homes are in the development pipeline and expected to be built by 2019. Homes from the contributions raised by City of Sydney are built and managed by City West Housing. 
To help increase the supply of affordable housing we are currently reviewing a number of Housing SEPPs including the Affordable Rental Housing SEPP and SEPP70. During the course of the review we are examining ways to help increase housing diversity and affordable housing across the state. 
In relation to the National Rental Affordability Scheme, that Commonwealth initiative has now ended.
The Sydney Morning Herald had published a story about inclusionary zoning in the city and how the rents that were being offered for the apartments under the scheme were actually found to be above the levels the scheme prescribed. In relation to this story, the department told me:
In relation to the article on affordable housing rents on 9 October 2017, the Affordable Housing SEPP allows new homes built under the SEPP to set rents in two ways – either through an income based rent or a discount to market rent. The Department is considering the issues raised in the Herald article in the review of the SEPP. 

Friday, 27 October 2017

Manufacturing the Future: Cultures of Production for the Anthropocene

The evening’s lecture was the 10th annual Ted Wheelwright Lecture and it was by Professor Katherine Gibson from Western Sydney University. Gibson is the first Australian to give the Wheelwright Lecture.

Dr Elizabeth Hill, head of the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney, was compere for the evening, and Annamarie Jagose, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the university, opened proceedings. Simon Tormay, head of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the university, introduced a new portrait of Emeritus Professor Frank Stilwell by artist Judith O’Conal-Prinz (who introduced herself: “As an artist and a socialist as I’ve always been ...”). At the front of the room there was also a portrait of Wheelwright that O’Conal-Prinz had painted at the beginning of her career. In both portraits, the men wore red ties.

 

Wheelwright taught at the university from 1952 to 1986 and was a critic of orthodox economics who warned of the dangers of global capitalism. He died in 2007. Wheelwright’s research looked at the contours of foreign ownership. He was awarded an Australian Research Council grant to study manufacturing.

Gibson helped write the book ‘The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It)’ with Julie Graham (who died in 2010); the two women used the name J.K. Gibson-Graham to cowrite books. Manufacturing was a key interest of Ted’s, Gibson said. His father was a steelworker. Gibson’s father helped set up Pecks Paste after WWII. He was the production manager and would often manage refugees at the company’s factory at Rosebery in Sydney.

She said there are primary challenges facing manufacturing, and pointed to recent science that shows the appearance of “manufactured materials in sediments including plastics, aluminium and concrete” (‘Science’, 8 January 2016) proving that the Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. The Anthropocene also “coincides with global spikes in fallout radionuclides and particulates from fossil fuel consumption”. It is, Gibson said, “What we drink from, what we live in, what we move with.”


We have seen massive wealth generation as a result of modern manufacturing processes, she went on. There have been decades of wealth redistribution, but more recently there have been decades of wealth polarisation. How to address this disparity in wealth distribution?


She asked if manufacturing can be part of a solution to global warming, and used a quote from a 2003 book by Julian Agyeman and others: “The need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.”

She also quoted from a book by Chantel Carr and Chris Gibson (2016), ‘Geographies in the making: Rethinking materials and skills for volatile futures’: “how humans manipulate materials, compose objects and construct economies and societies around material things – as well as how this might be done differently.”


There is now a shift from machinofacture to robofacture. In her research, Gibson selected companies that are doing different things. Gibson pointed back to the mid- to late-1980s when Laurie Carmichael was the assistant secretary of the ACTU. (He had also been the head of the Communist Party of Australia.) In those days, workers enjoyed well-paid employment in the car industry. But innovation around cars of the future was stymied.

Gibson said that the future of Australian manufacturing lies in upstream small manufacturing companies. She has an interest in class and a process and pointed to regional capitalist Mondragon of the Basque country in Spain. She pointed as well to Race Mathews’ work on the history of cooperatives. At the time her first book was published, Gibson recalled, her brand of thinking was labelled “Hills-hoist socialism”. But she said that post-structuralist feminism liberated her generation. It had a performative aspect because it contributes to making some things more real than others.

She pointed to the Earthworker Cooperative, a manufacturing cooperative in Victoria. (I wrote a story about Earthworker in 2011 for ‘Ethical Investor’ magazine.) It demonstrates a community-led form of economic development.

Then Gibson gave us four examples of innovative types of businesses in Australia, starting with Interface Carpets. The company was started by Ray Anderson in 1973 in Atlanta. The company is an example of a circular economy, recycling carpets into new materials. In 1995, the company had looked at ways to reaching a target of “mission zero” and they found that way through the reuse of carpet tiles.

Gibson put up a slide quoting a former CEO of the Australian company saying:
The stories you hear in the business were that when he first started to communicate that to, say, Wall Street, they really thought he had lost his mind. He used to raise that subject on occasions and the share price would go down afterwards. But we’re talking in the nineties, yeah. Then it became an advantage … So you go from being a heretic and a complete lunatic to … actually you’re [in] a leadership position.
They had a fire in 2012 at their plant at Picton but gave workers 12 months’ pay to stay on while they rebuilt. A new plant was opened in Minto in 2014. The former CEO said that at the time “we knew that to start up the new plant rapidly we needed to retain the skills of our people because carpet manufacturing or textile skills are very thin on the ground in Australia these days”.

The second company Gibson looked at last night was Varley Group. The family-owned company was founded by George Henry Varley in Newcastle in 1886. In the late 1990s it faced closure. But free from the influences of the stockmarket it adapted and now has 600 employees. “It’s not just the business, it’s our Varley culture, our way of how we want to run the business,” said the managing director of Varley Engineering. The general manager of Specialist Vehicles said:
That’s one thing that Varley do have, is people are human beings and do we really need – can we get through this as a team? You’ve got to give them credit to it. That may be one of the things that has kept the place together, it has a reputation that … the senior staff are loyal too, and those people are committed.
Then Gibson looked at Norco, a 125-year-old cooperative in northern NSW that is owned by 220 dairy farmers and has three manufacturing plants. The company employs 800 people and has $1 billion in sales. It pays above-award wages in its plants, including an ice-cream factory in Lismore. It uses succession planning with younger farmers taking on production while older farmers stay on the farm. The chairman of the board of Norco said:
Globalisation has served its purpose and made us all aware that we need to change and move forward, but it doesn’t mean that we need to abandon our own.
The fourth company that Gibson looked at was Soft Landing. The company was originally established by Mission Australia as a way to process the hundreds of mattresses that were being dropped off at its collection points. There are 1.6 million mattresses thrown away each year in Australia. Gibson also pointed to Resource Recovery Australia. She said there is national mattress stewardship scheme in which Soft Landing has taken the lead. The national manager of the company said about its cooperation with an automated partner (which had wanted to take over the company):
Still a partnership; we’ll be the front face, we’ll do the collection, we’ll be the social enterprise, we deliver to you the volume of mats that can go through your machine and you push the button on, and the widgets and whatever go. Great, we’ll keep some mats aside for our guys that are existing. We want a net gain in jobs, so we don’t want to lose any jobs, we want more jobs.
These are businesses that operate at some distance from private shareholder primacy. There are glimmers of new cultures of production in Australia, Gibson said.

She also pointed to a study of automation by Hugh Dwyer and the work by James Ferguson studying ownership of land in southern Africa. For Gibson, it has been an epistemological epiphany, being imaginative. She said it is important to keep your critical sensibilities.

Gibson is currently working on a project titled ‘Reconfiguring the Enterprise: Manufacturing Culture in Australia’ with Dr Stephen Healy of Western Sydney University’s Institute for Culture and Society, and Associate Professor Jenny Cameron of the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Urban and Regional Studies. The project received ARC discovery project funding for 2016 to 2018. Gibson is also involved in Community Economies Collective.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Is globalisation the opposite of nationalism?

The talk last night was part of the Sydney Ideas series, and was on the topic of globalisation. The compere for the evening was Professor Glenda Sluga from the Department of History at the University of Sydney. She is an international historian. First up with a bunch of slides – which form the bulk of this blogpost – was Professor John Romalis of the Department of Economics at the university. He is an international economist. Also speaking was Dr Thomas Adams, a lecturer in American studies and history at the university’s United States Studies Centre. He is an historian of American society and cultural life.

The discussion swung around the question: Is globalisation the opposite of nationalism? The first slide that was shown showed what is called the DHL Globalisation Index, which measures trade, capital, information and people flows across borders. The index dipped, for example, in 2015 but did not go negative. This chart starts in 2005.


Professor Romalis brought up some slides looking at the case of Austria to question the assertion that there is too much globalisation. According to his sources, most inputs in industry in Austria comes from elsewhere in Austria or from elsewhere in Europe. The first chart looks at what Austrian businesses purchase.


The second slide considers consumer purchases in Austria. Again, most goods purchased by Austrians come either from Austria or from elsewhere in the EU.


He also put up a slide full of text titled ‘How do economists think about the gains from globalisation?’ It said:
  1. Production linkages raise the productivity of firms and lower their costs. This increases the quality of goods and services that can be produced per person.
  2. Consumption linkages lower costs to consumers. They shift purchases towards products that offer better value.
  3. Investment linkages facilitate the transfer of better ideas and more productive technologies across borders, as many of these are either “tacit knowledge” that is not easily transferred, or proprietary in nature and will not be shared freely. Technology transfer raises the productivity of business.
  4. 1 + 2 + 3 lead to higher AVERAGE income per person.
  5. Economists still think that there is potential for further gains from globalisation, especially for developing countries, if the costs (whether policy based of otherwise) of conducting international business declines.
Romalis then put up a rather striking chart that shows the way that global wages – along a scale from the poorest on the left to the wealthiest on the right – have changed over the period 1988 to 2008. The red dotted horizontal line shows the growth rate in the mean of 24.34%. You can see the big dip in the chart up near the top of the scale. This dip represents the fall in wages of the poorer parts of the workforce in the developed world. Romalis noted that unlike in the US, Australia’s manufacturing industries were gutted by deregulation a long time ago, so we had already felt the pain that the US is feeling now.


Next, he looked at the way that real wages in rich countries have been depressed by globalisation, “because imports from poorer countries effectively embody the services of unskilled foreign workers, reducing the demand for the services of local unskilled workers.”


Adams mentioned in his talk Theodore Levitt at Harvard who invented the term “globalisation” in the ‘80s. He noted that when most people hear globalisation they hear loss of good jobs, but he called Trump’s promises of “good jobs” a cargo cult mantra. He also mentioned Mike Davis, a California historian.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Brutalism six: 1 Oxford Street

This is the sixth in a series of blogposts about brutalist architecture in Sydney.

A letter to the city building surveyor dated 8 December 1969 from architects Hanson, Todd & Partners of 225 Miller Street, North Sydney, accompanies a development application (DA) for an international hotel to be built at the corner of Oxford Street and Wentworth Avenue for client Hooker Projects Pty Ltd.
There is a splendid uninterrupted view from the site in a northerly direction over Hyde Park to the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Botanical Gardens and Harbour. It is conveniently located in relation to the City, Kings Cross and Southern beaches and in close proximity to the expressway to the Airport.
The site included several buildings. At 2 Wentworth Avenue and 1-7 Oxford Street was a five-storey, four-storey and part-three-storey brick building owned by Reuben Brasch Pty Ltd, used as a department store and associated offices. At 9-11 Oxford Street was a four-storey brick building owned by Vogel Investments Pty Ltd, used for shops on the ground floor and various industrial and commercial purposes on the upper floors. At 13-15 Oxford Street was a two-storey brick building owned by Sacher Investments Pty Ltd. This building was badly damaged in a fire in 1958 and subsequently demolished and rebuilt; it was then used for shops on the ground floor and offices on the upper floors. There was also at 17-19 Oxford Street and 1-7 Brisbane Street a two-storey brick building with a basement owned by G.J. Coles & Co Ltd, used as a department store. Total area of the site was 37,400 square feet.



These details are contained in a city building surveyor’s report dated 23 November 1970.

Hooker wanted to buy a property owned by the council in Brisbane Street to build its hotel, but this plan did not go ahead. The council also asked the developer to surrender land at the back of the block so that Wemyss Lane could be continued through to Brisbane Street, but Hooker refused to do this without financial compensation.

A letter from Urban Systems Corporation Pty Ltd dated 25 February 1971 serves to outline council plans for city streets in the area. The company had produced the city’s 1971 Strategic Plan (the city’s first such plan). The letter says:
As part of the Strategic Plan, a hierarchy of streets, designed to assist traffic movement throughout the City of Sydney, has been drawn up. Under this hierarchy, certain streets have been indicated as arterial or sub-arterial streets designed to serve through traffic, whereas other streets have been indicated as local streets, designed to serve local circulatory traffic within the individual precincts of the City. 
One of the more important arterial routes is the Macquarie Street, College Street, Wentworth Avenue, Elizabeth Street route which will serve as an inner distributor and bypass to the Central Business District. 
Particularly as the Eastern Distributor is unlikely to be completed for ten or more years, it is especially important that the Macquarie Street, College Street, Wentworth Avenue, Elizabeth Street route be upgraded and maintained as an arterial route to serve both the CBD and also the Woolloomooloo – East Sydney area. 
Upgrading this route will require improved traffic management in the first instance, this is to be subsequently followed by physical improvements, including grade separations at intersections with other major arterial routes.
(Grade separation is a method of aligning a junction of two or more surface transport axes at different heights (grades) so that they will not disrupt the traffic flow on other transit routes when they cross each other. For example, using an overpass. An intersection is not a grade separation.) The plan to create a grade separation at the intersection of Oxford Street and Wentworth Avenue did not – fortunately – go ahead, but the council convinced the developer to surrender part of the site so that Oxford Street could be widened at the intersection.


Above: A diagram showing where Oxford Street was widened using part of the building's land.

While the original plan was for an international hotel (estimated construction cost of $13.5 million), with parking for 440 cars and 810 bedrooms, by December 1970 this plan had been abandoned and a 24-storey office building was being proposed. But the council had other plans. In a letter from the city building surveyor to the town clerk dated 7 December 1970, it was recorded that at a meeting of the Works Committee the DA had been deferred so that Hooker Projects could be asked to include in the DA residential accommodation on floors 13 to 23 of the building.

A letter from the city building surveyor to Hanson and Todd dated 2 December 1970 says:
The Committee is desirous of development in this area, due to the proximity to Hyde Park, being either residential or mixed commercial and residential.
Hanson and Todd immediately wrote back:
We appreciate Council’s desire to bring life into the Inner City, and no doubt the Council would, at the appropriate time allocate certain areas of the City for residential accommodation, as demonstrated in the Woolloomooloo Redevelopment Plan where zoning is clearly defined. 
The subject property was acquired by our clients, Hooker Projects Pty. Limited with the purpose of erecting a commercial development, and it was assumed that by abiding by all the current Council Regulations and conditions of zoning and current Building Regulations, the Council would permit a commercial development on this site, consistent with its recent approvals in adjacent areas. 
Plans for an International hotel were prepared and a Development Application was submitted to the Council on 8th December, 1969, but was withdrawn on 9th April, 1970, because our clients were unable to reach satisfactory agreement with any of the Hoteliers who expressed interest in such a development.
The letter went on to plead that feasibility studies were carried out for a commercial development and that the current zoning was for commercial use. “It would have been unreasonable to have expected our clients to foresee at the time of the purchase of the property that Council would seek to place restrictions on the development of the site.” Furthermore, the letter went on, the council had approved other commercial developments containing only offices on Liverpool and College Streets, “which are in close proximity to the site”.
All of the work done and decisions taken to date (including the purchase of the land) have been done and taken in good faith by ourselves and our clients in accordance with current zoning regulations. We have discussed the project from time to time with Officers of the Council to ensure that the scheme abided by the current Council Building Regulations. At no time did any member of the consultant team or our client gain any impression of a requirement such as is now suggested. 
An office building was chosen in view of the fact that there is little office space available in the section of the City, and the office development proposed would rejuvenate a depressed retail area. It would add a population of over 3,000 working in the offices who would shop for at least daily needs and stimulate business in a depressed and dormant segment of the City.
The letter goes on to list the amenities offered by the new development, including the plaza area and trees to be planted on Oxford Street.
This building, with its carefully considered design, would create an environment which we believe could set a standard for the future development of the South Eastern portion of the City.
A letter dated 28 April 1972 from the City Building Surveyor’s Department to Hanson & Todd gives approval for the building to go ahead.

The new building would have 150 parking space (including 100 spaces for use by the Police Traffic Branch) and 23 floors of office space. The lift motor and plant room on the roof was to initially be built with brick and council refused the application, but later accepted it on condition that the finish of the structure on top of the building be faced with hammered ribbed finish concrete (to match the rest of the building). Asbestos fireproof spray was used in the construction of the lift motor room roof to protect the lift motor in case of fire.

The building would comprise three materials: exposed aggregate precast concrete, anodised aluminium, and hammered ribbed finish concrete.

Construction was completed and approved on 10 July 1975. Inspection of the mechanical ventilation system went ahead and it was approved on 11 December 1975.

In September 1977 permission was sought from the city by The Sutcliffe Catering Co Aust Pty Ltd (of 202 Jersey Road, Woollahra) for a license to operate a canteen on floor 23 of the Rural Bank Building. In February, plans had been submitted to the City Planning and Building Department for a cafeteria and kitchen and dining facilities for the whole of floor 23 of the building.

The building was operated by Schroder, Darling Property Fund on behalf of Burns Philp Trustee Co Ltd in September 1986 and the main tenant was still the State Bank. Other tenants were the Public Service Board, the Department of Main Roads and the State Building Society.

The building is now owned by Memocorp. I sent an email to the owner for the purpose of asking questions for this blogpost but no reply had been received by the time of publication.






Sunday, 22 October 2017

The migrants who helped make Modernism in Sydney

Today’s talk was titled ‘Making Australian Modernism: Architecture’ and it tied in with an exhibition currently on at the Sydney Museum in Bridge Street. Glenn Harper was the compere for the afternoon, which started at 2pm and went through including a period of time for questions until around 4pm. 

The speakers were Tone Wheeler, Peter Lonergan (both practicing architects) and Catherine Lassen, who teaches at the University of Sydney. All three spoke about the contributions made to the evolution of Modernism in Sydney often by migrants who arrived in Australia in the middle of the 20th century.

Migrants had an enormous influence on design in Sydney, Wheeler said. The city’s population doubled from after WWII up to 1975. Sydney is the most concrete-based city in the Western world, he went on, and attributed this to the influence of overseas architects.

He talked about the influence of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It was started under the Labor government of Ben Chifley, in 1946, and it was finished by 1974. Over that time, 100,000 people were involved in the project. 70,000 of these people were migrants. It involved the skills - of both technologists and labourers – of many people. "There was an enormous spirit for the learning of the new trades." Wheeler pointed to a musical band called The Settlers who were active in the region at the time, and he recited the words of a song about a night out by a group of workers getting some R&R in a pub in the town of Cooma.

Then he pointed to Gerardus (Dick) Dusseldorp, a construction manager who came from the Netherlands, and who, in 1953, founded Civil & Civic and later formed Lend Lease. Wheeler said that there was a tradition in Australia of “build once” properly, a directness and rawness of approach that you can see in the concrete structures of the 1970s. One of the notable buildings that Dusseldorp was involved in was the Harry Seidler block of flats in Ithaca Rd, Elizabeth Bay. “Concrete clad buildings beautifully executed became a hallmark of Sydney,” said Wheeler. Wheeler's ideas can also be found expressed on the same subject in a book edited by Rebecca Hawcroft titled ‘The Other Moderns’.

Lonergan talked about Bruce Rickard, a Sydneysider who completed his education in the US. Rickard's grandfather was real estate developer Sir Arthur Rickard, and he entered Sydney Technical College (now the University of New South Wales) in 1945 to study architecture. He worked with his uncle Ruskin Rowe for three years, but he had an interest in the practice of architecture overseas. He met Sydney Ancher and worked in his office. While there, he saw a book on Frank Lloyd Wright. He developed a love of an architecture that responded to a regional environment. He went to lectures by Lewis Mumford. He got a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania to study landscape architecture. There, he was lectured by Philip Johnson.

In 1957, he returned to Sydney. At a site at Warrawee on Sydney’s north shore he tested out ideas learned from Frank Lloyd Wright. He would go on to design 80 houses in Sydney, and in every house, Lonergan said, he exercised ideas he had tried in the first house. “He never gave up,” Lonergan said. “The houses were unaffordable, the blocks of land too large.” Lonergan added that today’s architects owe a great debt to architects of those days.

Lassen spoke about husband and wife Hugh and Eva Buhrich, who met on their first day studying architecture together in Munich. They went to TU Berlin then ETH Zurich, and had elite architectural educations. They saw the Bauhaus exhibitions in Berlin and Stuttgart. They worked with Swiss architect Alfred Roth, who had worked on the design for the 1929 Le Corbusier exhibition. In 1939 they arrived in Sydney.

In Australia they struggled with professional recognition of their education. In Sydney, Hugh worked as a designer or planning consultant; Eva never registered as an architect in Australia but was the Sydney Morning Herald architecture critic from 1957. She argued for a deeper architectural understanding of Walter Burley Griffin. In 1966, she argued for conservation of terrace houses in Paddington that the state government wanted to tear down in order to build apartments. Most of Hugh’s practice was residential work, and he didn’t get registration as an architect until age 60, in 1971. Lassen said he was “conjuring nature through materials”.



Above: (From left) Tone Wheeler, Catherine Lassen, Peter Lonergan.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Hills Shire transitional housing plan to go ahead

About six weeks ago I wrote a blogpost about a new social housing project initiated by The Hills Shire Council. Under the plan, developers in the area would be allowed to increase the yield on their developments if they agreed to provide the council with apartments in them for a period of 10 years rent-free. The council would allow social housing providers to manage the apartments during that period to provide housing for families displaced by domestic violence, for example. At the end of that 10-year period, the apartments would revert to the developer, who could do with them what they wanted.

The plan was touted as a brainchild of mayor Yvonne Keane. But then we had the local government elections and the council’s mayor is now Michelle Byrne, so I got in touch with the council to find out whether the transitional housing program would still go ahead. A council spokesperson replied to my email:
The Transitional Policy Framework is a resolution of The Hills Shire Council. The matter is before the Department of Planning and Environment as part of the Gateway process. It will return back to Council, if approved. Council will then hold further consultation with residents.
I got in touch with the state government and they told me that the council’s application for approval to change its local environment plan (LEP), “to introduce a local incentive provision for the delivery of transitional group housing”, had been approved.

The council must now put the proposal out for public comment, including advertising it in local media and making plans available to view at council properties. The approval by the government also specifies that the council must consult with the Department of Family and Community Services as well as with local service providers for group homes. The council has 12 months from the date of the approval to make changes to its LEP. The Gateway determination report also says:
It is recommended that the proposal proceed with conditions given that it will assist in enabling the delivery of transitional group housing for people in need in The Hills Shire, while ensuring that any resulting increases in floor space will not result in any unreasonable impacts on the amenity of surrounding residents.
The council’s plan would apply to all land zoned either R4 High Density Residential, R1 General Residential or B4 Mixed Use in The Hills Shire, if the development is for a residential flat building or shop top housing where the development includes no less than 50 dwellings.

Here is a summary of the proposal’s details:
The bonus floor space shall not exceed 10% of the maximum Floor Space Ratio permitted on the site, up to a maximum of 900m2 [gross floor area] (capped regardless of the site area); 
An additional 300m2 of GFA would be available for every ‘transitional group home’ provided, which would allow for 2 bonus dwellings (each with an average internal floor area of no less than 100m2 GFA) comprising:
  • 'transitional group home’ (to be used as a group home (subject to agreement with a suitable provider/s) and then returned to the developer after a period of use - potentially 10 years); and
  • standard dwellings above the yield otherwise achievable by the developer;
The maximum additional yield achievable within the bonus floor space will be 9 dwellings (of which 3 would need to be a ‘transitional group home’), as the average internal floor area of all transitional group home dwellings within the development is no less than 100m2; 
The timing of the developer’s incentive is staged:
  • Upfront: 2 bonus (unrestricted) dwellings; and
  • After 10 years: 1 bonus dwelling (when use as a transitional dwelling has ceased).
The government’s documents also note:
This planning proposal is not a result of any strategic study or report. However, the planning proposal provides an appropriate response to and is consistent with the vision for The Hills Shire Local Government Area given in various strategic studies, including A Plan for Growing Sydney, the Draft Central West District Plan, The Hills Local Strategy, and the North West Rail Corridor Strategy.
From the department’s website:
A Plan for Growing Sydney, released in December 2014, is the NSW Government’s plan for the future of the Sydney Metropolitan Area over the next 20 years. The Plan provides key directions and actions to guide Sydney’s productivity, environmental management, and liveability – including the delivery of housing, employment, infrastructure and open space.


Hills Shire Mayor Dr Michelle Byrne (on the left) and Deputy Mayor Robyn Preston stand outside a new development in the area.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Book review: October, China Mieville (2017)

This year - in fact this month - marks the centenary of the October Revolution. In Wikipedia:
It followed and capitalized on the February Revolution of the same year, which overthrew the Tsarist autocracy and resulted in a provisional government after a transfer of power proclaimed by Grand Duke Michael, brother of Tsar Nicolas II, who declined to take power after the Tsar stepped down.
The book takes the reader through the process of change starting just before the February Revolution and leading up to the October Revolution. It wasn't clear-cut, during this time, that the Bolsheviks would finally grasp power. In fact, because of the way socialism had been theorised by Marx - as a step lying between capitalism and communism - most of the people involved in the political process during these months were hesitant to proceed direct to rule by the proletariat. They wanted the bourgeoisie to first step up and form an interim political settlement first. But of course that could not happen; Russia was very far behind the West in terms of its economic development, let alone its political settlement.

This is why there was so much support in those intervening months for the provisional government, which was made up of politicians from across the spectrum - from left to right (but not the Bolsheviks) - most of whom were trying to make the thing work despite setbacks. Another complicating element at this time was the war against Germany. The Bolsheviks viewed it as a creation of the capitalist class, and wanted to stop it; others had different ideas.

Things came to a head after an attempted coup by forces loyal to a general. Wikipedia summarises the event: "In what became known as the Kornilov affair, Kornilov directed an army under Aleksandr Krymov to march toward Petrograd to restore order to Russia, with Kerensky's agreement." Kerensky was the leader of the provisional government. The result of this was that the left - and the Bolsheviks were on the far left - gained a lot of support within the community, and they gradually moved from this point of strength to instigating the seizure of the Winter Palace, where the provisional government resided.

Mieville's technique is to couch all events in the present tense, in order to increase the sense of drama involved in events. He also shortens things to their acronyms and Russian original words, which makes events hard to follow. I still don't know what the "CC" was, for example, although this acronym appears again and again in the book. Part of the problem is that the backgrounding of the main actors is insufficient to sustain the reader on his or her journey. You are constantly coming across things you don't understand, which is just unnecessary. Better editing would have fixed this defect.

Nevertheless it's a useful book about a seminal event in the 20th century. More people should educate themselves about the events leading up to the October Revolution in order to understand its significance to the average person in the street of Petrograd (now St Petersburg) or Moscow. As the world becomes more and more unequal due to the effects of neoliberal policies of governments worldwide - and due to the effects of capitalism - we will see more and more calls from within communities for change of a kind that mirrors those of people living 100 years ago in Russia. Calls for change to make the world a fairer place.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Brutalism five: McKell Building

This is the fifth in a series of blogposts about brutalist buildings in Sydney. Like a lot of buildings in this style, this one was built by the government but is now privately-owned.

In a memo to the city building surveyor dated 18 April 1969, the deputy chief commissioner of Sydney City Council asked for special consideration to be given to a development application (DA) from the director of public works. The application was submitted late – after state government guidance on the floor space index had been given, rather than before – because of “protracted negotiations in respect of the acquisition of all the property required for the development”. He added that he considers that “the Crown is not ‘bound’ to the same extent as other developers and should receive special consideration because of the Council’s strong desire to encourage large development in the Haymarket – Central Square area”.

In a summary of the proposal from the Department of Public Works, the purpose of the development is described:
The Government is continuing its policy of providing its own accommodation for offices of Government Departments. This building will be the third city office building to be built in recent years and at this stage it is proposed to accommodate the Departments of Agriculture and Health and the Automatic Data Processing Centre. 
Other functions in the building would be some shops and a small area of general purpose space suitable for letting. This accommodation would be located towards the George Street end of the site and would tend to replace to some extent the existing commercial activities in this block. Final area of rented space may vary depending upon market survey, but basic plan of the street level areas will not change. 
The project as a whole is in line with the Government’s announced policy of supporting development on the depressed southern end of the central business district.
“The island site with wide streets on two sides (George Street and Rawson Place) and Belmore Park on the east lends itself to a development of a floor space index of 12 (twelve),” the summary goes on. “Pedestrian traffic volumes in the area are low, adjoining streets wide and open, and vehicular traffic access to the site can be ideally arranged from Barlow Street.”

The DA states that the land in question – bound by Pitt Street in the east, Barlow Street in the north, George Street in the west, and Rawson Place in the south – was resumed in 1901 for Central Station then sold as surplus to requirements. The hotel was erected on part of the site about 1934 and the other buildings “on the balance” about 1912.




The NSW Government Architect was appointed to design the new building with Lionel Glendenning as project architect.

Architect E.H. Farmer noted in his report on the site that the area was zoned under classification 3(a) for general business in the City Planning Scheme. A 90-foot building for the postmaster general was at the time nearing completion in Barlow Street.
The surrounding known development proposal comprises a scheme for new offices for the Australian Gaslight Company to the north side of Barlow Street on the site already occupied by that Company. Further north at one city block away in Hay Street, is the large scale hotel Sydney-Tivoli development. 
A building on the Rawson Chambers Site would form part of the architectural development around the perimeter of Belmore Park and the final design would need to be considered accordingly.
In the three-storey Prince of Wales Hotel building at 774 George Street at the time the new building was being planned (number 4 marked on the top map, above) were a newsagent, a florist and a bookshop. In six-storey Rawson Chambers (number 1 on the map) at 2-24 Rawson Place and 491-499 Pitt Street were two delicatessens, a milk bar, two cake shops, a radio shop, a dry cleaner, a fish shop/café, a tobacconist, a wine shop, a wholesale clothing and carpets shop, two wholesale clothing shops, a textiles outlet and a wholesaler. In two-storey Barlow Chambers (number 3 on the map) at 3-23 Barlow Street were an electrical outlet, a barber, a shoe repairer, a milk bar, a dry cleaner, a fish shop, a florist, three leather goods shops, three clothing outlets, a dress shop, and a baby wear shop. In three-storey Station House at 489 Pitt Street, the building at number 2 on the map, was a lottery office.
Approximately one third of the total area was occupied by the Wholesale Clothing or Textile Trades, the remainder being general shops such as electrical, radio, florist, shoe, newsagent, fish and milk bars.
Buildings at numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the map were already owned by the department.

A letter dated 22 May 1969 from the property officer of Tooth & Co Ltd, Kent Brewery, Broadway, to the secretary of the department states that the company is the owner of the Prince of Wales Hotel and shops in George Street and Rawson Place. “We authorise you to act as our representative in the making of a development application incorporating these properties,” the letter continues. The government subsequently bought the building outright.

Total ground floor shop space in the buildings to be demolished to prepare the construction site was 18,098 square feet (1681 square metres).

The new building would comprise 213,000 square feet (19788 square metres) of space, to be allocated (at the planning stage) as follows:
  • Department of Agriculture: 75,000 sq ft (6968 sq m)
  • Department of Health: 120,000 sq ft (11148 sq m)
  • Automatic Data Processing Bureau: 18,000 sq ft (1672 sq m)
The building would accommodate approximately 1900 to 2100 workers. “It is expected that there will be a significant increase in the number of people crossing in peak hours to Central Railway and Buses due to the development of the site,” Farmer’s report goes on. “It is desirable to locate an entrance to the building Rawson Place [sic] so that pedestrians are encouraged to cross Rawson Place and Pitt Streets at regular crossing points on route [sic] to Eddy Avenue and the staris [sic] to the Railway.”

The department’s planning document notes that:
The site dimensions which are approximately 45 [feet (13.7 metres)] to George Street and 150 [feet (45.7 metres)] to Pitt would make it difficult to develop any internal plans for public use. It is proposed however to recess the building from the boundary at the street level and provide under-cover colonnaded access all around the site. There is approximately a one storey rise from George Street to Pitt Street and it is intended that the access area would follow the slope of the existing pavement with internal steps of varying numbers down to shops. It is proposed to interupt [sic] the undercover sloping levels as little as possible with only one short flight of steps at a point approximately half way along Rawson Place.
These ground-floor plans, and the plan to have shops on the George Street side of the site for public use, never eventuated. Farmer had suggested that the lottery office could be accommodated in the new building, but this idea also did not make it into the final plans.

Cost of constructing the new building estimated at $10 million. The construction site would include Barlow Lane, which was council property. DA permission was granted in April 1969.

The planned 23-storey tower would include an auditorium, a first aid clinic, dressing rooms, conference rooms, and a cafeteria and shop on the first floor “in lieu of offices”. (There would be “A public address and “Muzak” system … installed in the Cafeteria and the two large rooms of the Auditorium and Conference centre”.)

Staff would be encouraged to use public transport and there would be no all-day parking inside the building although parking for 50 to 80 cars would be included. “Only Government owned or operated vehicles will be allowed in the parking area, which will operate as a ‘pool’ under the supervision of attendants,” a departmental document says. The architect’s report notes that there would be an area in the lower-ground floor for unloading goods. A car wash would be provided also.

As well as a first aid room in the basement “for emergency purposes” the building would also include a clinic:
The Clinic will have a Treatment room, Office, waiting Area, Female Ward, Male Ward, a toilet off each ward and a store. Female Ward will be large enough for 4 beds and will be used also as a Female Rest Room. 
The windows would be “Solar Bronze Glass” with “dark bronze anodised aluminium frames”. The external wall cladding would be “mid-tone stone colour, smooth finish” and the paving for the area next to Pitt Street would be “off white pre-cast concrete paving slabs”.

The 150-person auditorium was designed as a “series of multi purpose rooms, some with folding partitions, to be used for lectures, films and training seminars”, including 100 fixed seats. There would be a small stage “for dramas”. “The other room will have 80 seats. Both rooms will be able to be divided by a sound proofed folding partition giving room sizes for 100, 50 and 2 x 40 seats. Two additional rooms for 30 persons will be provided in the complex specially for conference.”

From the architect’s report:
At this stage the structure is proposed in light weight aggregate concrete. It is intended to use an [8.5-inch (21.6 cm)] flat plate floor system stiffened with capitals at columns. The structural grid is 28 feet [(8.53 metres)] which is the practical limit of this kind of construction. Preliminary analysis shows that this method is more economical than deuse weight concrete and even much more economical than steel framing. Although steel framing can be constructed in less time, the developing concrete technology in recent years makes it possible to pour floors and columns sufficiently ahead to suit an overall building programme. Many “Developers” are adopting concrete structures. 
As planning proceeds a detailed analysis will be made to maintain structural costs to an optimum and any methods which will integrate structure with finishes to reduce overall costs will be examined.
The DA was approved by council on 29 June 1970. Barlow Lane was officially closed by government gazette notice in February 1974. The city council agreed to the closure on the understanding that the department would not require any compensation for the splays at each of the four corners of the site.

The building is now owned by Cromwell Property Group. Their public relations firm was contacted for the purposes of writing this blogpost but no reply had been received at the time of publication.



Above and following photos: I approached the McKell Building from the direction of Chinatown and passed along Eddy Avenue up toward Surry Hills, taking photos as I walked along.





Above two photos: The George Street frontage of the building is just an imposing-looking set of stairs, instead of shops (as had originally been planned by the Department of Public Works).


Above: Posters for the NSW government along the Rawson Place side of the building impress on you the fact that the public service still uses the building, although now as tenants rather than as owners.



Above: The Pitt Street entrance of the building with its civic plaza. Next to this entrance to the building is a Service NSW centre, where the public can perform common state tasks, such as renewing drivers licenses and paying for car registration.



Above: The sandstone fabric of Central Station's Elizabeth Street exit with the McKell Building visible in the background.