Affordable Housing – Now more important than ever in Perth


By Simone Wilkins

It’s no surprise that Western Australia’s economy is currently the worst performer in the nation and it certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to ascertain why.  The mining bubble had to eventually burst and whilst we knew we would never be able to sustain such an economy from mining alone, many were not prepared for it to happen with such gusto.

The knock-on effect has seen housing prices tumble, unemployment rise whilst the cost of living is still right up there.  The advent of affordable housing in WA couldn’t be more important than now and the existence of organisations such as Foundation Housing, Access Housing and others together with the support of the Department of Housing, play a significant role in its necessary increase.

In light of the recent budget announcement and our current economic environment, the statement below is very poignant.

The Australian Institute of Architects’ (AIA) current National President, Ken Maher told an audience of federal politicians, “As a key player in the development of the built environment, the architecture profession has the skills to deliver housing that addresses crucial issues, such as affordable living, sustainable design and flexible housing, providing savings in both upfront costs and the ongoing cost of occupation”.

The lodging and affordable housing projects that are sprouting up are providing more than just that, they are being cleverly planned with a sense of community, pride and contribution all at the forefront of the overall design.

Gone are the days of the concrete block, eye-sore designs that unfortunately still protrude out of our city and surroundings. Just because they are classed as affordable living or lodging dwellings doesn’t mean style and creativity in the look and feel have to be avoided.

Ian Hart, Director of JCY Architects and Urban Designers, who are responsible for many of the latest affordable housing projects such as 67 Bennett St in the CBD and the Ashton Avenue complex in Claremont, said housing affordability is about more than providing housing with a low purchase price on the outskirts of the city.

“Housing affordability is also about reducing ongoing living costs, this includes lower transport costs (to get to work, amenity and services), reducing energy and water bills and reducing ongoing maintenance,” he said.

A sense of community, safety and belonging when faced with adversity are also paramount and organisations such as Foundation Housing know that the underlying issues of social housing can’t just be fixed by building more accommodation. It’s about working closely with tenants and the community in general to improve their situation and work towards exiting the social housing system.

Kathleen Gregory, CEO of Foundation Housing, said completing the Bennett Street complex represented a very important step for ensuring that those who are often the most vulnerable in our community, can live independently in housing that is affordable and safe.

“Residents enjoy modern, inner city living close to public transport while being supported by Foundation Housing’s programs and services that assist them to maintain their home and also to strive for more independent living,” she said.

When designing complexes such as 67 Bennett St, high quality architectural design and the use of quality yet affordable materials enrich the overall appeal and the presence of communal areas, gardens and terraces only enhance the sense of ownership for all residents.

Mr Hart said incorporating simple passive solar principles into the design provides the opportunity for passive solar heating and cooling, natural daylighting and natural cross ventilation.

“If these principles are coupled with shading devices, improved building fabric thermal performance (additional insulation) and high performance glazing, the reliance on air-conditioning systems for heating and cooling is reduced, which can help reduce energy costs and improve the health and wellbeing for residents,” he said.

A key feature of the brief for the development at 67 Bennett St was to minimise maintenance issues for Foundation Housing, who will be long term owners/occupiers of the development. This required the consideration of whole of life cycle costs in the selection of building materials to minimise both construction costs and ongoing maintenance and operational costs, with specific attention given to materials that can be easily and economically maintained and replaced.

“The choice of materials also has an impact, not just in what is selected, but how and where they are used,” Mr Hart said.

“In the Perth climate, it is important to provide dwellings with a high level of insulation but also high levels of thermal mass, (when used in conjunction with good passive design) which can be used to moderate internal temperatures, increasing comfort and reducing energy costs. Affordable Housing is a misnomer – it should really be termed ‘Affordable Living’.”