Monday, October 26, 2015

Mythbusters: Boarding House Edition

'If the prostitutes and criminals don't get you, the ice addicts, deviants, and bums surely will. Why just look at them now, the usual suspects leering at you from their den of ill repute - or 'boarding house', which I do believe is the technical term:

"We'll get ya!"

I assume they paint the boarding house walls in the style of a police lineup to save time. Save yourself while you can - run to the hills (district)!'

Or so went the dominant view surrounding the application for construction of an eight-room boarding house in Cromer, on Sydney's Northern Beaches. Warringah Council's Development Assessment Panel granted development approval last week despite an overwhelmingly predictable backlash. Approximately 800 individuals made submissions to council regarding the development. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, just 0.12% - that is, one - of the submissions were supportive of the project. The record shows those 799 dissenters included Social Housing Minister The Hon. Brad Hazzard MP, Warringah Mayor Michael Regan, and the Principal of a neighbouring primary school. 

The following comments are not attributable to any of those persons, but do give an idea of the flavour of much of the opposition:

"Most [boarding houses] are filled with ice addicts, heroin junkies, paedophiles and jail birds. Please stop this from happening asap [sic].."

"Not only because there is no control over who will be living there (paedophiles???) but also because the children might be exposed to drug/alcohol related problems."

Clearly, these are serious numbers and very serious allegations. So how could the Cromer boarding house have been granted approval? Does it evince a disregard for community safety and interests? Perhaps a sign of arrogance - hubris even? The undue influence of property developers? Or could the opposition campaign be extraordinarily misguided in multiple respects?

Lock in D for the full million, Eddie. It is difficult to know where to start in debunking the opposition to what should be an entirely uncontroversial development.

But let's start with what exactly has been approved. As Warringah Council's report on the development application provides, the Cromer project may be categorised as a 'new generation boarding house'. Earlier this year, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute ('AHURI') released a discussion paper which defines the term. And the truth is less than earth shattering: "blocks of small 'studio apartments' or in some cases one-bedroom apartments with separate bathroom and kitchenette". And those undesirables? According to AHURI, they are largely a mix of professionals, students, and shift workers, often paying in the vicinity of $400 a week in rent.

So don't believe the hype. The Cromer development is a largely ordinary apartment block, set to be inhabited by an 'ordinary' cross section of the community. 

Somebody please think of the children!

But even if the project better resembled a more traditional boarding house, the 'addicts and criminals' claim would not hold water. As the AHURI report states, traditional boarding houses are indeed home to "some of society's most excluded and vulnerable individuals...". But the assumption that vulnerable residents bring danger and degradation is simply not borne out. 

Just look at Cromer itself. According to Fair Trading's Boarding Houses Register, its postcode of 2099 is already home to two such boarding houses. The neighbouring postcodes of 2098 and 2100 also contain one each. And there are likely more still, as the AHURI report notes: "...there are strong grounds for believing that the actual scale of NSW boarding house provision is understated by the Fair Trading register...the numbers registered with Fair Trading as at August 2014 were considerably fewer than those formally approved to operate as boarding houses by the council concerned." 

The reality is that the people the campaign so fears will move in are already living in and around Cromer, possibly in considerable numbers. And yet the sky has resolutely failed to fall. Fear and loathing inspired by the vulnerable of our community is simply wasted. 

Finally, the notion that a development application should be refused on account of objections such as those raised in this matter does not concord with how planning law works. Broadly, a development application is assessed according to its compliance with technical and dispassionate criteria, such as height limitations and permitted use. Subjective contentions such as those raised by the opposition here do not get a look in. This quote from the NSW Land and Environment Court, relied upon by the panel in approving the Cromer project, puts it best: "The consent authority must not blindly accept the subjective fears and concerns expressed in the public submissions...there must be evidence."

So forget the hysteria, loud as it may be, and rest easy. This development will not send Cromer to hell in a hand basket. Indeed, this has all happened before, as the seemingly prophetic words of a boarding house proprietor quoted in the AHURI report make clear:

"When [council] has the notification period...all hell breaks loose. There's a residents' action group that's formed, there's agitation from them, you'll have 40 people come to the Council meeting, all throw their arms up, 'there'll be derelicts here, there'll be drug dependents, etc., not in our back yard, get rid of it. Make sure you refuse Mr Council and Mr Mayor and make sure it goes away'."

Far from devastation, the Northern Beaches are as safe as boarding houses. 


  1. I lived in a boarding house for 10years in the city 2000 postcode and I cannot see any of the people that shared the boarding house in the list of undesirables supposed to inhabit boarding houses. They were just single people, taxi drivers, post office workers construction workers , delivery drivers , short order cooks, casual office workers, waiters bar staff and students and for what I know from living in the same house for 10 years with that group of people, none filled the description as ice addicts, paedophiles etc. Time to stop the discrimination against low income workers, The only thing we all seemed to have in common was a need for a affordable place to call home close to our work opportunities. We need more affordable housing in Sydney and Boarding houses do fill a need in social housing for ordinary working people and retirees

  2. Really good article as always. It may be unkind of me, but I find it's always fun to watch very comfortable people get distressed by their own imaginary fears. But then it can get a bit sinister when the imaginary fears make their way into legislation / regulations. I'm pleasantly surprised that the development application approval process in this situation rules that out.

  3. What a deceptive article - selective quoting at its worst.
    The quote about community reactions is from a property developer (forgot to mention that bit did we) Were you just finding any quote to support your flawed argument?
    Lets look at the facts:
    This was not a traditional boarding house like in the inner city - it is a substandard studio apartment complex with substandard facilities that is only allowed because of dodgy legislation created by Obeid and sanctioned by Baird's white shoe brigade (aka the Urban Development Institute) which gives special exemptions to "developers" just like the one you quoted.
    So your conclusion is that you support substandard development for the short term profits of a developer at the expense of underprivileged people.
    Here is an idea:
    How about real housing solutions that are creative, genuinely affordable and work for everyone; not 21st century tenements to benefit dodgy developers.


Please keep your comments PC - that is, polite and civilised. Comments may be removed at the discretion of the blog administrator; no correspondence will be entered into. Comments that are abusive of individual persons, or are sexist, racist or otherwise offensive will be removed, so don’t bother leaving them.