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Image: Supplied.
  • Affordability issues in the regions might be addressed by build-to-rent
  • Smaller lots have become a market niche Ms Macquarie has capitalised on
  • Regional planning controls need to be tailored, not taken from the city

With affordability a growing issue in the regions, what solutions are out there?

In our third and final feature with Jennifer Macquarie, we look at the ‘build to rent’ trend and the shift to smaller lot sizes.

Build to rent in the regions

“Currently, the Government’s build to rent incentives don’t necessarily capture the regions because they apply only to projects with a larger numbers of dwellings which simply aren’t viable in the regions,” said Ms Macquarie.

“It’s also a political challenge. One way of delivering build to rent in the regions is utilising planning provisions for New Generation boarding houses. But when this kind of development is mentioned the response is ‘oh my God, we don’t want that in our town’. People are very protective of their area and change brings uncertainty.”

Jennifer Macquarie

Communities are also concerned with the social fabric, with questions including ‘Is there going to be a social issue?’ and ‘Who’s going to come and live in my community?’ when suggestions about build-to-rent or similar small lot developments are made.

“In reality it’s the ambulance worker, it’s the health care worker, it’s the barista, it’s actually people just like them who would be living in these homes, but as soon as you get any of that anti-development conversation happening around town, people stir up support through scaremongering,” she said.

Smaller houses

Creating smaller houses is another way forward. Ms Macquarie said the trend in recent times is for smaller household sizes, so smaller homes work. 30% of homes have one person in them, and another 50% have two people in them.

One of the ways to maintain character and traditional architecture was the use of back lanes.

“Better subdivision design for small lots creates vehicle access via a back lane, avoiding garage dominance on the main street front which looks really unattractive.” Back lanes also present an opportunity for an additional small dwelling type to be developed.

2017 Tullimbar-0585
Tullimbar. Image Supplied.

Ms Macquarie said she had first seen back lane apartments in America, where the main house was at the front, and the apartment was on top of the garage out the back, but all on one title.

“We decided to trial them in our Tullimbar Village development and once people saw them and interest was growing, we realised we could subdivide them off and sell the garage-top apartment separately.

“That’s when we knew we had a unique product on our hands because no one else was building apartments in back lanes in NSW.”

After creating a few, a new market niche that Ms Macquarie didn’t expect presented itself: single older women.

“I had always thought these apartments might appeal to young people looking for their first affordable step into the market.

“Instead, I started to see this trend of single women who were divorced later in life. Their assets were split with their ex-partner and they didn’t have a lot left to buy their own home.”

Brookehaven - View 2
Brookehaven. Image: Supplied.

Ms Macquarie recounted some of the women that went through her office.

“I had one lady cry on my shoulder with relief because she had been so stressed looking for something in her price range, and suddenly she had this cute little apartment. It made me realise how important it was for people’s wellbeing and mental health to be able to find suitable housing options within their financial reach.”

Another lady was couch surfing with friends up and down the coast as she searched, because paying rent would erode the money in her bank account and further reduce her capability to buy a home.

In her soon to be developed Brookehaven project, Ms Macquarie will be creating small, one bedroom, one storey cottages.

With medium density sites becoming more expensive, developers are typically delivering two storey town houses to maximise yield and profitability, but Ms Macquarie decided on this site to buck that trend and create more accessible small homes for older residents as well as replicating the back lane apartments that proved so popular in her previous project.

Brookehaven - View 3
Image: Supplied.

“Talking to my local real estate agent, they said no one is doing this, it’s fantastic and so needed! Once again, a little niche market.”

In the Southern Highlands of NSW, recently identified as one of the least affordable housing markets in Australia, Ms Macquarie is in the final stages of planning Ingleside, a small community of 1- and 2-bedroom energy-efficient cottages for seniors featuring traditional architecture and a central community garden.

Property council and regional voice

Ms Macquarie currently serves as the Illawarra & Shoalhaven Chapter Chairperson for the Property Council of Australia, and has been glad to convey the regional voice and perspective at state level and use that advocacy channel to get the message in.

“Most planning decisions are made for metropolitan areas, and the solutions are quite different for regions. When the government develops planning controls and strategies for the city, and it gets blanket washed over regional, it can be the wrong solution.

“We need more tailored strategies. I think the Government is beginning to understand this, evidenced by the recent creation of the NSW Regional Housing Task Force.”

Leading by example is another way forward to enact change in the regional space, Ms Macquarie said she wants to develop great examples of regional small lots and build to rent, such that there are templates for good design out there.

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