The plan to add thousands of affordable apartments in Sydney’s inner west

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An inner Sydney council hopes to encourage more religious groups to use their surplus land for desperately needed affordable housing rather than selling it to developers for profit.

The Inner West Council is expected to vote on Tuesday to waive a $1.13 million development fee on a 52-unit affordable housing project in Marrickville to be completed this year. The motion proposes that instead of a development fee, the not-for-profit Fresh Hope Communities will do work in kind and fund $346,000 of improvements on a laneway behind the property.

A render of the new affordable housing block designed by SJB architects.Credit: SJB

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne said councils shouldn’t be charging development fees to not-for-profit groups.

“There is a huge amount of church-owned land across inner-city Sydney in particular, and we should be making it easy for churches and religious charities to do the right thing and convert that land into not-for-profit housing,” he said.

The development by church group New Hope Communities, with Nightingale Marrickville, will provide affordable housing at 389 Illawarra Road, Marrickville.Credit: Wolter Peeters

The affordable housing project’s units will rent for about 80 per cent of the market rate. The site was developed by Fresh Hope Communities with not-for-profit housing group Nightingale Marrickville.

Nightingale’s chief executive Dan McKenna said the project, its first in Sydney, was only feasible because the land was provided by Church of Christ, which retained ownership.

His group had been looking for sites in Sydney since 2018 to replicate its successful affordable projects in Melbourne, but the “astronomical” price of land had prevented it from expanding into NSW, he said.

McKenna said land next to public transport and in areas that needed more infill housing, such as Marrickville, was three times as expensive as comparative sites that it had developed in Victoria.

Byrne said people who are advocating investment in affordable housing needed to establish partnerships with religious groups who share that social justice ethos.

“If we get the system right, this could literally result in thousands of low-cost rental dwellings being made available where they are most needed. This social justice goal of homes for lower income people is a way of adhering to Jesus’ message in contemporary Sydney,” said Byrne, who describes himself as a cultural Catholic.

Fresh Hope Communities chief executive Daniel Dwyer said: “This is an important pilot for us. Instead of selling it, we repositioned it for the benefits of the community in Marrickville.”

Fresh Hope, founded by the Churches of Christ in NSW and Victoria, had committed to keeping the property in perpetuity.

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne.Credit: Kate Geraghty

The recommendations before council said a new Housing State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) facilitated an exemption from development contributions.

A Melbourne-based not-for-profit housing company, Nightingale was established by architects. It has won about 20 awards for its affordable, low-carbon, low-income housing in Victoria, WA and Victoria. Most Nightingale projects are located near public housing to avoid the cost and space of providing parking.

“We’re using this as a pilot to show these [faith] groups that we are in a housing crisis, and people are struggling, and how should we use these assets? They should repurpose them, not sell them off,” said McKenna.

Fresh Hope was much smaller than the Catholic and Uniting Churches, yet it was showing that it could be done, he said.

The project has had a long and difficult history involving legal action to overturn a heritage listing placed on an unremarkable old church.

“The first project is always the hardest,” said McKenna. “We are looking for a vote of confidence from the Inner West. Soon we will have people living, sleeping in the beds, and it will show what is possible.”

Designed by award-winning architects SJB, the project will include 54 Teilhaus apartments (which is German for part of a house). Small units are complemented by large shared spaces for laundry, gardening, dining and socialising.

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