Published in The Age on February 24, 2023.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it is how vital our essential workers are in keeping our everyday lives running.
Often low income earners are among the people most affected by the rental crisis in Melbourne, where vacancies are low and rental prices are skyrocketing.
“A lot of key workers just cannot afford the private rental market,” says Trudi Ray, the chief executive of Haven Home Safe, a profit-for-purpose organisation which connects people with affordable housing and support services.
With a goal to prevent homelessness, and with over 40 years experience, the Haven Home Safe team know only too well the realworld need for affordable housing options. This is why they have joined forces with private property group Riverlee and Homes Victoria in creating 151 social and affordable apartments in the $2 billion New Epping development.
“As the market has continued to grow and price people out, it’s really important that we have appropriate housing in locations where people need them, that is also affordable in terms of their design and perpetuity of that affordability,” Ray says.
Known for developing precincts, Riverlee is turning 51 hectares of land 18 kilometres north-west of the city into New Epping.
“Upon completion, we’ll have over 2,000 dwellings, which will include a mix of apartments, townhouses, retirement living and aged care,” says Riverlee project director Ben Rowe of the completed one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Riverlee is revitalising a ‘‘central green spine’’, bringing an 11-hectare stretch of Edgars Creek back to life and creating parklands and running tracks. The apartments, set across three towers, will overlook this green vista.
“It is one of the best locations within the first stage,” Rowe says.
New Epping will also have a health precinct with allied health, education, teaching and research facilities, plus a new hospital, while the commercial hub and wider precinct is expected to create employment for more than 7,000 people.
“Every community wants its childcare workers, its new teachers to fill schools, its nurses and orderlies and retail workers,” says MGS Architects director Rob McGauran. ‘‘We expect these services to be available, but we need to provide housing for these workers.’’
The apartments were designed in consultation with Haven Home Safe to ensure they reflect residents’ needs, so the results are spacious, low-maintenance homes with an eight-star energy rating.
‘‘This is really important because it means resident’s ongoing energy costs will be lower,” Rowe says.
The design has also focused on facilitating community: The podium level has a barbecue area; there are shaded nooks for conversation or reading; edible plants, such as lemons and rosemary; and other garden spaces for residents to use.
‘‘It’s never just about providing a house; it’s about providing all the other things around that – it’s about welcoming people, connecting them, planning activities,” Rowe says.
With some residents already in place, Ray says “we already have a few dog walking groups and people are coming together socially, which therefore creates happier, connected people”.
“These apartments are an example of what a partnership can achieve for the community,” she says of the development which has been co-funded by Haven Home Safe and Homes Victoria.
“Our residents have smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes because they just are blown away by the quality and the standard.
“Housing attainability and affordability is one of the most significant issues that we currently have and we’re all just incredibly proud of being able to make a difference to these people’s lives.”