News / Council

Mayor voices fears of affordable housing crisis

Mark Riley says Brunswick is in danger of losing its character as key workers are priced out of the housing market
Read part one of the interview.

Moreland Mayor Mark Riley: “It’s really going to impact on the mix and the makeup of our community if it just becomes a certain income or level of wealth.”

Mark Phillips
Friday, January 14, 2022

THERE is a real danger that a diminishing supply of affordable housing and rapid gentrification could push key workers, artists and low-income earners out of Brunswick and neighbouring suburbs unless there is government action, says the new Mayor of Moreland.

Cr Mark Riley said it was frustrating that councils were having to come up with affordable housing solutions because of federal and state government policy failures.

In a wide-ranging interview with Brunswick Voice last month shortly after his election, Cr Riley said he was concerned that the area’s character could be lost if the housing affordability crisis was not dealt with as a matter of urgency.

“It’s very serious,” Cr Riley said.

“It’s really going to impact on the mix and the makeup of our community if it just becomes a certain income or level of wealth.

“That’s not what we need as a city where we celebrate the diversity in the culture and so on. And if we can’t keep people here to work and live here, if we can’t provide housing for all income levels, I think that’d be shameful, that would be a real loss to us.”

He said housing both for rent and purchase in parts of Moreland was becoming unattainable for many, with state and federal government policies helping to fuel price growth.

Last year the council entered into an agreement with a not-for-profit organisation to transfer an under-used car park valued at $4.1 million to provide new affordable housing in the centre of Brunswick.

It is the first of what is anticipated to be a number of similar deals with Moreland Affordable Housing where council land will be “sold” to be redeveloped for housing.

The parcel of land in Wilkinson Street is expected to yield 30 dwellings, generating a social and economic return of $48.7 million.

Cr Riley said the Moreland Affordable Housing was not his preferred model for dealing with the issue, but the council had little choice because the federal and state governments were not doing enough to relieve pressure for cheaper housing.

He said both other levels of government should be increasing the public housing stock at a rapid pace.

“There are so many barriers in place that our small attempt to provide some affordable, and social housing is a way to just say, and indicate to the community that we care about this issue, and also to demonstrate to the state and local governments that it’s doable,” he said.

“We can’t quite do it on the same scale as them but it is doable.”

Read more:

Car park set to be transformed into affordable housing

Support for higher density housing

On a related issue, Cr Riley said he supported higher density housing and apartment living in Brunswick, but he did understand the concerns of residents about the rate of change and issues like overshadowing. He insisted that there was often little the council could do when planning policy was mostly set by the state government.

“Urban consolidation’s something that I support, and I’d prefer us to be going higher and more dense than taking over valuable agricultural lands on the periphery of the city,” he said.

“I know people feel like they don’t have much of a say in the system. And the system doesn’t give them a lot of say, it is pretty much weighted to the landowner and the land developers to be able to do most of what they do.”

But Cr Riley said people should understand that most of the high-rise development was taking place along the Nicholson Street, Lygon Street and Sydney Road corridors, and the Upfield railway line, and not in traditional residential neighbourhoods.

 “If you’re living in around those activity centres, I would understand why you would feel you’re being crowded out,” he said. “But in fact, Moreland than has one of the higher rates of neighbourhood residential zones across the city, some of the other cities are very envious of how much we have.”

Sydney Road changes ‘inevitable’

On another issue bound to stir passions on both sides, Cr Riley said it was inevitable that Sydney Road would become less car-friendly, although he does not expect it to happen any time soon.

While control of the road resides with the state government and not the council, Cr Riley is a supporter of reducing cars on Sydney Road, a stance that is likely to make him unpopular with traders. But he says change is unlikely to come until accessible tram stops are built, which may not be for several years.

He does not believe removing on-street car parking would be anywhere near as detrimental to retail activity as traders argue.

“The more activity and activation of the street to make it more accessible for passive and active transport users like walkers and riders and others, the more you will get those businesses flourishing,” he said.

“There are many examples of that in High Street [Northcote] and Ackland Street [St Kilda] and others you can see that work happening, they lose the car parks, but it doesn’t stop the businesses, they don’t go out of business.”