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Flight of vital workers spurs cheap rent plan

COUNCILS are developing affordable housing policies to try to stop teachers, nurses, police and child-care workers leaving expensive parts of the city reports Catharine Munro and Brian Robins in the SMH of October 22, 2007.

As federal leaders argue over the best way to make it cheaper to build a home in Sydney's new suburbs, local governments are looking at ways of keeping so-called "key workers" from moving out of established areas.

The City of Canada Bay Council says it is following in the tracks of North Sydney, Randwick, Willoughby and Waverley in approving a plan for a developer to give 15 of the 313 flats in North Strathfield back to the council. They would be rented out at a discounted rate.

"Councils are being encouraged to fill the gap left by other levels of government, particularly through its role in planning, development and construction," the council's policy says.

Waverley Council has run an affordable housing program to keep the elderly and disadvantaged in the district as the arrival of the likes of James Packer drives up real estate prices.

It now wants to entrench the programs in the rules of its local environment plan and extend it to apply to key workers.

"We believe that our program could be a good model for the state and other councils," said the Mayor, Ingrid Strewe.

A report on Canada Bay's plan, approved in August, says the inner-west housing market "is characterised as high growth, high need and high demand for social and affordable housing".

"Opportunity to purchase is very limited," it says.

The Mayor, Angelo Tsirekas, said it was difficult to find developers who were happy to strike such agreements.

"They are not coming to you every day to provide community benefits. I think they would look for added value to their development."

But the council has stipulated that six of the 15 units to be developed by Holdmark Developers would be reserved for health workers at Concord Hospital, with the hope that tenants will save up for their own home in the future.

They will be available to people earning between $549.75 to $1319.40 per week at no more than 75 per cent of the market rate - $460 for a three-bedroom apartment.

Canada Bay said local hospitals and aged-care homes had lost employees on low or moderate incomes because workers had been unable to find affordable accommodation.

Willoughby Council has a similar project involving providing low-cost accommodation, where it is to receive part-ownership of 28 of 40 units in a new development. A spokesman for the council said it had yet to decide how many of these units are to be sold as low-cost accommodation.

Marrickville Council has recently hired an affordable-housing officer to help develop its approach in this area.

The City of Sydney has a target of ensuring that 1 per cent of the housing stock in Ultimo-Pyrmont is set aside for low-income earners, while at Green Square, the target is 3 per cent. These targets are low by international standards: the City of London has a 10 per cent target and some US states such as California have a 20 per cent target.

Efforts to keep key workers from moving away are part of an international trend. This month alone, new measures were announced in the US, Britain and New Zealand.

Most involve imposing levies on developers.