Social housing funding a welcome post-Covid salve – let’s make it sustainable

Following the Victorian government’s announcement last week of the largest investment in social and needs-based housing since the Global Financial Crisis, it’s vital for housing providers to integrate sustainability benchmarking across their operations and asset portfolios in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This will place them in the best position to ensure social housing upgrades and new-builds are climate resilient, while also meeting government funding criteria.

The Victorian government has committed to a $500 million package to build 168 new and upgrade 23,000 existing homes in an effort to stimulate the post-Covid-19 economic recovery.

Across the sector there is hope that there will be further announcements made on how new social housing can play a significant role in the economic recovery.

There is a critical opportunity to ensure that the benefits of this investment is enduring and delivers for vulnerable people who need homes.

Investment of this scale is a rare opportunity for needs-based housing providers to respond to the severe social housing shortage.

Around 80,000 people are on the wait-list for social housing in Victoria, with the state having the lowest proportion of social housing relative to total housing stock in Australia.

Community Housing Industry Association chief executive Lesley Dredge estimated that the Victorian government would need to build 6,000 new social housing units per year for a decade to make up for the shortage.

The opportunities to future proof the designs and the development of housing under this investment program are significant.

Enhanced sustainability performance of housing has a clear link to liveability and health where, for example, well-insulated dwellings that have ample access to natural light and cross ventilation dramatically reduce operational costs and improve the comfort of living spaces.

The lower operating costs and higher quality build of a home built to a high sustainability standard also strengthens the business case for institutional investment in social housing, as the asset is seen as enduring, and lower risk.

Sustainability benchmarking

Sustainability benchmarking and target setting can be used across the portfolio of a needs-based housing provider to demonstrate specific sustainability commitments for a new or retrofit project. This process ensures that both community needs and climate resilience are factored into the design and operation of future homes.

Enhancing business operations and building performance for sustainability provides housing developers with a stronger business case for government and private sector investment, with sustainability performance increasingly being included in selection criteria.

Being able to clearly and consistently articulate the environmental performance of projects is critical.

Future-proofing needs-based housing creates an enduring asset class for future reinvestment, improving the financial platform of the sector.

Ensuring housing is aligned with sustainability objectives fosters healthy, climate-resilient communities and builds additional physical and financial capital into housing portfolios, due to longer-lasting assets, lower maintenance costs, and likely higher attraction of investment from government agencies, institutional investors and the ethical investment sector.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals are an internationally recognised analysis framework to report, monitor and evaluate progress against 17 standards for a better and more sustainable future.

These include goals of particular relevance to a Victorian context, such as sustainable cities and communities, health and wellbeing, climate action, affordable clean energy, and responsible consumption and production.

Alignment with these goals can also benefit housing providers,  positioning with potential government, philanthropic and private sector partners. It also assists in building organisational capacity to engage with international frameworks for advocacy on housing.

The Victorian Government and a number of local governments are now using the SDGs as a lens for measuring their own progress and developing policy. Organisations who have undertaken strategic work to demonstrate their own alignment and made commitments to improve target areas are well placed to work with governments on shared outcomes.

Demonstrating targets and performance against sustainability benchmarks and SDGs in government applications, business case development and funding applications will be crucial for needs-based housing providers to achieve ongoing access to funding. And so it should be, because it will also ensure the development of climate-resilient, durable and liveable social housing required for a better more sustainable future for all in Victoria.

Laura Phillips is the Head of Urban Advocacy at HIP V. HYPE and Mitra Anderson-Oliver is a Better Cities and Regions Associate with the HIP V. HYPE sustainability team. HIP V. HYPE is a community of built environment advocates inspired by a vision to pioneer carbon-neutral housing models in Australia that are centred around the needs of people.

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