“Art for Art’s sake – Money for God’s sake”. Or as we have it now, Growth for Growth’s sake. We now have a Council that has passed the Spatial Plan, in a decision that some have described being a battle over young vs old. Up to 80,000 more people will be able to live in our city, in a gradual process over the next 30+ years.

So we now have a Spatial Plan, one that moves from Draft to Full, albeit one that has adopted some, but not all, of the amendments. The youth group City for People proudly say “We Won” but at this stage, to be honest, we’re really not sure exactly what they have won. The proposal to have a completely unlimited height limit was not passed, which I think is a good thing and presumably on that one, City for People would say “We Lost”, but honestly: thank goodness that unlimited height limits have not been adopted. I watched about 3 hours of the ultimately 10 hour long meeting marathon (rumours that several Councillors died of exhaustion during the meeting are not confirmed) and I certainly lost the will to live while listening to some of the Councillor rantings.

Next generation

I’m disappointed that the Council ultimately put the confusing 4a and 4b type housing heights back into the mix – it was confusing then, and then they changed it to make it less confusing, and then they changed it back again. Hey Council Officers: sort your shit out! Use some logical, plain English for these things. Having one zone being “Up to 6 Storeys”, and another being “Enable 6 Storeys” which actually means it could be less and it could be more – that’s just dumb. Dumb. Be consistent! Why not just give the actual range of storey height allowed? such as 1-2 storeys, 2-4 storeys, 3-6 storeys, 4-8 storeys? That’s how you do unambiguous storey heights Liam Hodgetts!

Is it really a battle of young vs old? Or is it more of a battle between those who believe in growth and those who do not? Our entire political, social, economic system relies on growth – which, we all know, either deep in our hearts, or sitting right up there on the surface, is completely untenable. Growth simply cannot go on forever. But the economic model wants it nonetheless. The best example of that lesson is the Chinese multi-decade experiment with the One Child Policy – which slowly worked, and then worked even more, and now that the whole population has gone into reverse (while India’s has not) then the Chinese government now has allowed not just two, but even three babies per couple. Population decline, or even stasis, means, in effect, economic collapse. Just ask Detroit – once the bustling centre of America’s Motortown, full of people, full of factories, full of cars – now devoid of life with only a tenth of its population in some areas. But a great place for photographers of urban ruins…. But I digress.

Eastown Theatre, 2012 Architect: VJ Waiver. Built: 1930.

So exactly where we are and what any of this means is totally unknown at present. Exactly which areas of “Character” areas have been preserved, and which have not, are still a bit unclear. City for People tweeted:

“Huge win! The expanded colonial character precincts have been rolled back to the smaller areas in the draft plan. A big win for housing, our climate, and decolonising our city!”

All of which is, sadly, green-washed politicised bullshit. Won’t really have any effect on the climate in the foreseeable future, is nothing to do with decolonising our city, and its debatable whether or not it is any sort of “big win” for housing. Certainly it is not going to magically result in “Affordable Housing”. I’m not sure that anyone really knows how to suddenly create Affordable Housing, but allowing developers to demolish “colonial” era houses does not in any way mean that what replaces it will be “affordable”. Let’s break that phrase down a little, shall we? Say, perhaps, that a developer buys a house in Mount Victoria for a million dollars. Unaffordable for anyone who doesn’t already have a property to sell in exchange. Although it is very unlikely that the developer could do this: let’s pretend that the developer could now build 6 storeys of housing on top of the site (in reality, as Mount Vic houses are quite small, on very small sites, it would be more likely that the friendly developer would need to buy several adjoining houses).

Hong Kong apartments

  • Start with $1 million, buy a small 100m2 house in Mt Vic on a 200m2 site.
  • Demolish / remove house for $50,000
  • Fees to Council and architects/engineers/planners/surveyors/geotech engineers $200,000
  • Build 6 stories of new housing – let’s say 12 flats at 75m2 each. Two bedrooms possible.
  • Each flat is going to cost a minimum of $3500/m2 each – probably way more.
  • That works out as construction cost of a minimum of $262,500 each.
  • You’ll need a core of, say, 30m2 per floor as well, at the same build rate.
  • All up, $5,030,000 including purchase price
  • Allow a 20% margin for profit, ($1,006,000) which is very tight for a developer
  • Total development cost $6,036,000. And then add GST (another $905,400)
  • Which is $6,941,400. Costs are getting up there. Let’s add in some costs for borrowing and call it $7,000,000 total. Again, this will probably be way more. But this makes for:
  • or 12 units at $583,333. Which sounds almost vaguely affordable. Except that:
  • A repayment ratio of 3.5 times your salary for an affordable repayment means you should be on a salary of $167,000 pa.
  • And that’s just not happening now, is it?
  • How many young people are earning 167k per year? None. But yes, it could work for a couple, ie 2 x people earning $85k each. How many young people do you know who are earning $85k per year? Not many, if any?
  • And all of this relies on a construction cost of $3500/m2 which is highly unlikely.
  • More likely to be about $6000/m2 for multi-storey construction. Which makes the whole thing waaaaay more unaffordable.

So, what now? That’s the problem – that the youth wing of Council have not done the maths, or more likely, have no idea of the process or the costs. Some people would say: “That’s easy to solve. Build cheaper! Build smaller! Less colonial features! Use bland design, not quality design! Maybe it is time to get Ugly! Don’t pay GST on new builds or fresh vegetables!” It’s true – we could build units for 30m2 each, instead of 75m2. That’s a bed-sit or studio, rather than a 2-bed apartment, but in theory you could still have 2 people in there. Building in a less costly manner is going to be tricky – unless you import quick and shitty modules from China. And some people are already doing that. Using a lower level of construction quality is unlikely to achieve the “warm, dry, safe” homes that Generation Zero have been madly advocating for.

Lower East side, New York. 27m2 apartment

Your thoughts and comments?