‘Meanwhile use’ can be described as the short-term utilisation of temporarily empty buildings such as aged care facilities, residential premises, retail, and office buildings until they can be brought back into commercial operation or demolished. Besides the logistical requirements required in refitting such sites, there are currently a number of planning hoops for community organisations to jump through.
This issue is the subject, amongst others, of a current inquiry by the NSW Parliament Committee on Community Services of the options to improve access to existing and alternate accommodation to address the social housing shortage.
Shelter NSW will make a formal submission by the end of this week.
Advocates of ‘meanwhile use’ argue that it is pragmatic and practical; making good use of otherwise empty spaces. At best, it enables options such as temporary supportive accommodation – currently in short supply. Detractors of ‘meanwhile use’ however, note that these approaches provide comparatively very little additional housing compared to need; open the way for potentially unscrupulous developers to take advantage of community organisations and their clients and with some risk to important health, safety and wellbeing requirements (especially for vulnerable cohorts). More broadly, they can distract governments from the bigger question – when the ‘meanwhile use’ ends then what happens to the people living there?
Shelter NSW asserts that there is no substitute for dramatically increasing the stock of social and affordable rental dwellings across NSW. ‘Transitional housing’ options should be temporary, as people move into longer-term secure, appropriate and affordable housing. Readers will be aware of our sector’s asks of government: that 5,000 additional homes be acquired or built each for the next 10 years just to catch up.
However, we do recognise that there are many organisations, such as some women’s shelters and churches, valiantly trying to promote some excellent examples of these types of ‘meanwhile use’ developments, often supported by local councils and community housing but thwarted by planning regulations that only serve to chew up the ‘meanwhile use’ time when something useful might have been provided.
Shelter NSW CEO John Engeler was recently asked to comment on the City of Sydney’s proposal for accessing vacant student accommodation to be used as transitional housing for women at risk. John was happy to offer some support for this approach but raised some warnings. For more information you can see his comments in a recent City Hub article regarding the City’s proposal.
Shelter was also delighted to recently meet with a private sector ‘for purpose’ group that is using its commercial and construction industry expertise and networks to help provide housing for low-income people. Housing All Australians was formed in Victoria but is expanding across the country. We met with NSW Chair, Tony Harris, who shared some very interesting information about sites in Sydney where he is currently facilitating ‘meanwhile use’.
For more information about Housing all Australians and their work please see their website: Housing All Australians.
For an example of a ‘meanwhile use’ created by Uniting Care, see this interesting story about a Pop up Shelter it repurposed from one of its out-of-use aged care homes. It has been turned into a temporary home for women aged 45 and over (part of the fastest growing cohort of homeless).