In early June the Federal Government released the Home Builder Program, along with most Australian Architects, ArchiTeam was disappointed with the lack of involvement and benefits for Australian Architects in the program. More significantly, there are no stimulus packages designed to address critical social housing needs. ArchiTeam Director Jamie Sormann, in charge of the Advocacy portfolio, tells us what happened next.
HomeBuilder, Stimulus Spending and Social Housing
Stimulus spending that targets the construction industry should be an opportunity to address long-term issues and improve the built fabric of society. The HomeBuilder policy, in its current form, fails to meet this objective.
The main industry beneficiaries of HomeBuilder are developers in the volume housing sector and their associated trades. This is primarily because the HomeBuilder Program, in its current form, requires the construction contract to be signed in 2020. This largely precludes the commission of any design work for residential projects where Development Approval or Town Planning Approval is required.
Currently, HomeBuilder can only benefit architects, our builders, tradespeople and clients in a narrow set of circumstances; however we face equal challenges to volume builders during this recession. We contend that the government has failed to recognise that our industry can provide equal stimulus opportunity on a dollar-for-dollar investment.
The ArchiTeam Advocacy team drafted a proposed revision to HomeBuilder. The proposal was developed in consultation with, and co-signed by, the Association of Consulting Architects (ACA) and Australian Institute of Architects. We will assist the Institute in actively lobbying the government and hope to see positive incremental revisions made.
We propose that the stimulus package should be adjusted to encourage the commission of allnew projects that require planning permission. Eligibility should be expanded to include projects that are lodged with the regulatory body before the same end-of-year deadline, with the grant issued at the commencement of construction. This would result in an immediate benefit to building designers and associated consultants with flow-on benefit to builders and tradespeople. There would also be lasting community and environmental benefit if processes prioritise energy efficient outcomes.
Beyond HomeBuilder, we contend that future stimulus packages should target social housing for our vulnerable citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic no longer allows for the ‘othering’ of our homeless and precariously housed. To help avoid the virus taking root amongst rough sleepers state governments have funded temporary accommodation for thousands of people. Without a strategy in place, these vulnerable people will eventually be returned to the streets.
Social housing solutions that are based on sound design practices is a critical concern. The towers in Flemington and North Melbourne that have been subjected to ‘hard lockdown’ are a prime example of how poor building design can result in the spread of disease. The design of the towers has also frustrated efforts to distribute supplies to the occupants who were forbidden to leave their apartments.
It is our contention that, while creating jobs, the billions of dollars in stimulus funding should be creating the right sort of homes for those who are most in need. Architects must be involved in this critical process.
We will continue to update our members on any progress with regard to our submission.