Courtesy: Land and Housing Corporation
No discussion of critical, city-shaping infrastructure can fail to mention housing. Regardless of our personal circumstances, we all need somewhere to live. Housing helps individuals and families to meet their needs and fulfil aspirations and plays a huge role in social cohesion and resilience. The pandemic and the associated lockdown have highlighted what we already knew: that safe, secure housing for all is fundamental to health, wealth and wellbeing.
In the early 1940s, across Australia, housing had failed to keep pace with need, partly as a result of the concentrated war effort. While governments had built social housing in Australia from 30 years prior, the Commonwealth Housing Commission established in 1943 by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction laid out a very clear direction in its report.
“We consider that a dwelling of good standard and equipment is not only the need but the right of every citizen – whether the dwelling is to be rented or purchased, no tenant or purchaser should be exploited for excessive profit.” (Commonwealth Housing Commission, August 1944)
Following its recommendations, the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement (CSHA) fund was created, spurring state governments to build social housing. The Housing Commission of NSW, founded in 1942 to house war workers, built almost 38,000 dwellings under the first CSHA fund from 1945-55, changing the landscape of housing in Greater Sydney and the very shape of our city.
This movement provided good-quality, affordable housing for people of differing incomes across the city, with a focus on families and returned servicemen. The vast majority were freestanding houses in the middle and outer ring of Sydney.
Today, the needs of tenants have evolved and so too has social housing. Fewer families and more single people need social housing, with single women over 55-years-old now the fastest-growing demographic.
The freestanding homes of the 50s and 60s are now challenged by underoccupancy and high maintenance costs, driving changes to home designs and construction. Smaller homes, integration with private and affordable housing, as well as clever design to reduce maintenance costs are the hallmarks of social housing in 2020.