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Infrastructure | Planning & Design | Social Policy

The latest initiatives set to tackle Australia’s housing crisis

31 Jan 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

In Australia, it is generally seen as the role of the community housing sector to provide housing for people in very low to middle income brackets.

In reality, community housing stock is dwindling while populations are growing; and the void between public- versus privately-financed sections of the housing continuum (homelessness through to housing stress) is widening.

In other words, unless you are homeless or eligible for public housing, there is a chance you may slip through the funding gap and be left with unaffordable living options.

In fact, it is estimated that more than 2 million low income, privately-rented households will be in housing stress by 2051.

Assemble Communities is seeking to address this issue with a series of initiatives. The B Corp-certified housing developer and community management business on a mission to challenge Australia’s housing crisis and deliver affordable, well-designed homes that are accessible to all.

Chief Operating Officer, Emma Telfer – a speaker at this year’s Build to Rent Conference – said the financial wellbeing of end-users was among a raft of outcomes being prioritised.

“Assemble’s overall approach is to offer a range of housing options along the housing continuum that are affordable to key workers, and low and moderate-income households.

“We are focused solely on a part of the market that currently does not have high levels of participation with the traditional providers of new housing, i.e., real estate developers.

“That said, we are looking to embed a range of key principles into our projects. We want to create communities that embrace diversity, reflect local culture, and nurture a stronger sense of belonging.

“We also strive for our buildings to be architecturally excellent, environmentally sustainable, and achieve good urban design outcomes.”

Creative use of resources

Assemble channels investment from Australia’s largest industry superfunds across its building portfolios.

Additionally, it has formed a joint venture partnership with Housing Choices Australia (HCA) to provide housing to the lowest income segment of the market.

“Collaboration is critical in building change. Our partnerships demonstrate how the private and not-for-profit community housing sector can work in unison to deliver real solutions to Australia’s acute housing shortage.

“We are dedicated to developing relationships with housing organisations, socially-minded investors, and government authorities,” Ms Telfer said.

A range of housing models

As part of its Homes for Change advocacy agenda, Assemble Communities is using a range of models to make housing more accessible:

Build to Rent to Own (BTRTO)

BTRTO is an innovative hybrid model supporting people on a moderate income. It allows residents to purchase a property following up to a five year lease period and pre-agreed purchase price.

Prior to purchase, residents can benefit from stable rents, certainty of tenure, financial coaching and community services.

Currently, Assemble’s BTRTO portfolio includes 450 dwellings across three locations, with new locations soon to be announced.

Build to Rent (BTR)

BTR provides housing for a range of demographics. Assemble is aiming for 20 percent of its BTR properties to become social housing (managed by Housing Choices Australia), 35 percent to become affordable key worker homes, 10 percent to become disability accommodation homes and the balance of homes at market.

Assemble’s BTR portfolio currently includes more than 3000 dwellings, with more projects in the pipeline.

Resilient and stable communities

Alongside its efforts to provide more equitable housing options, Assemble in deeply invested in community building.

In recognition of the importance neighbourly connections play in the wellbeing of residents,
Assemble includes social infrastructure and shared amenities on every site.

“Our communal spaces extend apartment living for our residents and provide an opportunity to meet and connect with neighbours in informal settings. Underpinning this, we have a unique service model which provides resident support on-site via the ground floor café.

“Additionally, we always locate our projects in proximity to strong transport links, with easy access to schools, healthcare services, and employment hubs.

“We believe these measures are integral to residents’ wellbeing and sense of belonging.”

Assemble’s community-building approach also takes into account the financial wellbeing of residents. “We provide financial coaching and bulk-buying initiatives for utilities and household goods. This allows residents to benefit from economies of scale.”

Architectural and urban design outcomes

Assemble believes apartment living should equally suit families with children, couples, singles, people with pets and intergenerational families. For this reason it avoids extensive custom joinery and favours loose fit homes.

“Loose fit homes give residents greater flexibility to personalise their living space and engender a greater sense of ownership,” Ms Telfer said.

Additionally, the quality of resident life is at the heart of its design work.

“Our buildings are designed with durable materials, flexible spaces, good access to natural light, cross flow ventilation, strong connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, high quality fixtures and fittings, robust energy systems and integrated landscaping.”

Environmental Sustainability

Assemble is also committed to providing sustainable, environmentally-conscious homes. The business is Climate Active certified and is striving towards a net zero future in line with the Science based Targets initiative (SBTi).

“Our buildings are fully electric, and we supply only 100 percent accredited GreenPower® to our residents through embedded energy networks.

Its ESD objectives extend to its design work, which is currently committed to providing:

• Rooftop PV energy generation and distribution system for on-site renewable electricity supply.

• Natural crossflow ventilation.

• Exposed concrete soffit provides thermal mass which helps to regulate internal temperature.

• High-efficiency reverse-cycle heating and top-up cooling in living area and ceiling fans in bedrooms.

• High angle summer sun shaded by eaves.

• Depth of eaves designed to allow winter sun into living spaces for passive heating.

• Full-height double glazing to balconies for views out and daylight penetration.

• Communal laundry and clothesline encourage lower energy use.

• Provision of car sharing and electric vehicle charging facilities.

• Generous bicycle storage.

• Rainwater harvesting collected from roof surfaces used as toilet flush supply and/or garden irrigation.

• Use of recycled aggregate materials and FSC certified timber products where possible.

• Low VOC materials used throughout.

• Where applicable, the incorporation of rain garden, which provides treatment of water from habitable roof areas before being released into the stormwater network.

Further details

Hear more about Assemble’s ambitious plans to tackle the housing crisis at the upcoming Build to Rent Conference, where Chief Executive Emma Telfer will unveil important updates on the company’s current and future work.

This year’s event will be held 15th February at the Rendezvous Hotel, Melbourne.

Learn more and register here.

About Emma Telfer

Emma Telfer is the Chief Operating Officer at Assemble, a certified B Corp private development business at the forefront of facilitating industry superannuation investment into affordable and social housing in Australia.

Ms Telfer leads the Place, Brand, Sales & Marketing, Impact & Engagement, Operations and People & Culture teams, and drives Assemble’s impact agenda – homes for change – which orientates the business around building a fairer, more affordable Australian housing system.

A passionate urbanist and cultural leader, Ms Telfer is deeply interested in the role design plays in shaping cities and social responsibility. Ms Telfer is currently Vice President of Open House Melbourne, a respected charity focused on improving public design literacy. She held the role of Executive Director at the organisation prior to joining Assemble.

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