‘MAPs in the City’ series part 2: Delivering multi-age precincts

In early 2016, SGS was commissioned by the Western Australia Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority to identify criteria for multi-age precincts (MAPs) and options for their delivery. This second installation of SGS’ two-part ‘MAPs in the City’ series explores the barriers to developing MAPs and provides recommendations on how to deliver them.

Click here to read Part 1 of the series.

What are the barriers to achieving MAPs?

While there are various individual and community benefits derived from planning for MAPs, including cost savings and ‘ageing in place’, current trends in Australia’s inner city suburbs do not align with key MAP development characteristics and principles, as discussed in Part 1 of this series.

Key barriers to achieving MAPs in inner city areas are described below.

Market risk

A perceived market demand for one and two bedroom units continues to drive residential development in inner urban areas, despite evidence of growing demand for ‘family-sized’ dwellings in inner city and CBD locations [1].

Intentionally planning for age diversity through MAPs means steering the market away from tried and tested housing products and toward innovative new models. Successful MAPs have features like high quality design, shared public spaces, dwelling diversity, comprehensive service provision and access to retail offers.

Delivery costs and funding

MAPs require additional features including common spaces, shared public spaces and access to retail and services. Delivering these features can add costs to the development compared to a development meeting the minimum regulatory standards. Development costs are not only a barrier to delivery, but can be passed on to users, creating age diverse communities that are only affordable to high income earners.

There may also be challenges to accessing funding for MAPs, which are more likely to require alternative development and ownership models, such as co-housing and cooperative housing.

Regulatory barriers

Planning controls and other regulations can act as inhibitors to innovative MAP design. For instance, requirements in some jurisdictions for minimum shares of one bedroom units may be in conflict with MAP development characteristics.

Locational constraints

Given the need for integrated planning, designing and programming in the creation of MAPs, they are most likely only achievable in strategic urban redevelopment areas.

Ongoing governance and leadership

The delivery of MAPs requires focused and continuous leadership in community building, activation, servicing and place making. Given the inherently complex and differing needs of stakeholders in a community, delivering and maintaining governance and decision-making structures can pose a risk to the ongoing success of a MAP.

How can we deliver MAPs?

SGS has identified three key options for the delivery of MAPs. These models, of which a combination can be chosen, are explained below.

Option 1: Co-housing by owner-residents

The housing cooperative or ‘co-housing’ model is a resident-owned development model where the cooperative is registered as a legal association and is responsible for the development, ownership and management of the housing development.

Co-housing eliminates the need for developer margins from the housing delivery process, with the result that the product is comparatively more affordable, can better meet the needs of the resident members, and is of high quality. Co-housing developments can range between 15 to 100 dwellings, and can incorporate resident ‘community contracts’ to ensure equitable in-kind and financial contributions to maintenance, programming and decision-making activities.

Examples of co-housing models include Cascade (Hobart), Urban Coup (Melbourne), LILAC (UK) and Baugruppen (Germany).

Option 2: Regulatory requirements via a planning framework

Given the current mismatch between housing development trends and desired outcomes for the establishment of MAPs, integrating regulatory requirements for inner city, transit-oriented areas into the statutory planning framework can better facilitate MAP development.

In the case of Vancouver, guidelines for high-density housing were adopted in the early 1990s to attract families with children to its downtown area. Size, configuration, location and open space requirements were incorporated into provisions for ‘family units’, with minimum requirements for the number of family units per development [2][3].

This initiative has been highly successful, with the share of children in downtown Vancouver today far higher than other comparable cities in North America. Given concerns that the guidelines failed to successfully provide for lower income family households in the inner city, however, it is critical that MAP-based planning mechanisms address issues of affordability. Catering for the broad spectrum of lower income groups – potentially including single parent households, students and retirees – can better achieve desired MAP outcomes.

Option 3: Cooperative housing by not-for-profit (NFP) providers

The NFP-provided cooperative housing model transfers responsibility to a community housing provider or other NFP association for the delivery and management of a MAP. A diversity of housing types can be provided through such a model, in terms of tenure, affordability, size and design. The NFP may further provide a ‘community coach’ to assist in programming community activities and facilitating interaction between residents.

Like in Option 1, residents may be required to sign a community contract to ensure equitable contribution to property, maintenance and decision-making activities.

Examples of this model include BloemRijk (Netherlands), and Common Equity Housing Ltd (CEHL) (Victoria), which delivers and supports a range of rental housing cooperatives in a combined private and social housing model.

Feasibility implications and next steps

A high level assessment undertaken by SGS of the financial requirements of a MAP development in an inner city redevelopment area found that the developer’s margin would only be around 4% lower in a MAP development than in a conventional development (28%) [4]. This analysis assumed that residents would not be paying a premium for MAP housing; if residents were to pay a premium on common and open spaces, the return on investment would be comparable to a conventional investment.

While financial implications will vary across locations and planning jurisdictions, this analysis indicates that MAP development is feasible in the urban context.

In the future, the establishment of MAPs in Australian cities will depend on:

a) The review of statutory frameworks across jurisdictions, potentially including the development of i. metropolitan housing strategies and ii. social and affordable housing targets (see the recently-released Greater Sydney District Plans),

b) Governments acting as a vehicle for promoting MAPs in urban redevelopment areas, including the potential underwriting of risk for developers, and

c) Delivery of ‘softer’ elements of MAPs through the harnessing of learnings from existing cooperative housing models.

[1] Zhou, C. (2014). ‘Melbourne families embrace city living’. Domain.com.au.

[2] Langston, J. (2014). Are you planning to have kids? (Part 1). Sightline InstituteSightline Institute

[3] City of Vancouver (1992). High-density housing for families with children guidelines

[4] Assessment was based on Vancouver high-density development guidelines on common and open space and design; a mix of dwellings comparable to high age diverse suburbs; and an assumed 15% of dwellings at below market value. This is a high level assessment and has not been informed by extensive market research.

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