Changing ‘heart’ of those responsible for affordable housing?

Peter Tinley wasn’t the Premier’s first choice for Minister of Housing when Labor swept to power in 2017, but he wasted no time jumping on board with the belief  “it is essential for the government to partner with private industry to offer a diverse range of housing options”.

Two years on this ethos is panning out in disturbing ways.  There is less space, and less place, for what constitutes “community” than we are being led to believe.

The Minister still needs to ensure Housing Authority department principles apply: “$14.5 billion [dollar] agency that deliver[s] social outcomes”, and he has to find a way to make the dense infill these projects represent acceptable to the public.

Dept of Housing Heart and Soul in Bentley
“Heart”, “Soul” – cheap sentiments to match cheap graphics used for the McGowan Govt’s first and largest “Precincts” project: Bentley 360?

The mantra, therefore, has become “it’s not about the box we live in, but the amenity… in which we live… if we do not talk about our people and how they will occupy this space… we are going to get poor outcomes*“.  Newer projects have been wrapped up in sugary sentiments such as “Heart” and “Soul”  – yet the Minister himself seems to struggle with what that means and for whom.

Mr Tinley floundered under questioning by experienced reporters when launching Labor’s first project under the McGowan Govt’s “Precincts” vision, blurted out What do they need all these rooms for?” on visiting a project for retirees described as “sensible density”, and gave the impression at a Future Of Housing event that providing homes for people with disabilities was in the too-hard basket.

As for the Housing Authority, incorporated under Dept of Communities, I witnessed what I believe was the undermining of its former, respected Director General as I fought for the inclusion of people with disabilities in an expensive new park, and he sought to help me.

It’s far from the only perverse outcome in what’s seen to be a virtuous thing – doing what it takes to increase the supply of affordable housing.

In the spirit of recent attempts to shed light on planning conundrums, and amongst a growing awareness that key public service departments need to read the Post newspaper to find out what’s going on with the state’s other housing developer, Landcorp, I hope to reveal some of what has escaped the radar at the Housing Authority in an ongoing series.

As at 1 May 2019 the new Director General of Communities is a former staffer of Premier McGowan, and an architect of his “machinery of government” model, Michelle Andrews.  Her biography doesn’t demonstrate experience in the areas of housing, communities or disability services, but it is with great hope for change to what “heart” and “soul” should mean I welcome her arrival.

Director General of Communities Michelle Andrews

*Kermode, P. (2019, September 26). Business News. Metronet to connect with urban amenity.

Image of Bentley 360 park extracted from article by Sandra Argese, The West Australian, “Heart and  Soul in Bentley”, as appeared on The West Australian’s website 30 April 2018

Image of Michelle Andrews from WA Housing Hub, April 2019

Main image to post produced by the amazing Geralt, accessible from Pixabay,