What are the key challenges of housing today?
Perversely, during the 20th century, dwelling sizes grew as household sizes shrank — increasing housing costs and social isolation.
In Australia, and many other parts of the world, housing has become unaffordable, especially in expanding cities.
Australia’s home ownership levels have decreased, and both mortgagors and tenants have to reserve more of their income over a longer period of time to pay for their housing costs than in the past.
Developers have also established dwellings, which typically last 50 years, without sustainability in mind.
In response, in the last decade or two, building regulations for new builds and renovations have incorporated criteria such as insulation, energy efficient appliances and design for environmental sustainability.
We still have — and will continue for decades to have — a large stock of older housing that requires extensive retrofitting for sustainability.
How is degrowth addressing these housing challenges?
Housing for degrowth takes a holistic approach to this multi-headed monster of expensive, unsustainable and anti-social housing.
The book – made up of contributions from 25 international activist-scholars – offers numerous international case studies where people are advancing these types of principles in practice. They include:
- citizens self-building simply designed, modest and low impact dwellings by reusing local, at-hand materials and benefiting from collective work parties
- tenants campaigning for refurbishing and expanding social housing rather than demolition, reduced public housing and gentrification
- squatting or occupying, preserving and enhancing empty, disused, and degraded housing
- applying alternative collective neighbourhood-based off-grid water, sanitation and energy services
- “tiny” and small houses and shared, eco-collaborative housing economising on material and energy use
- grassroots production and distribution of local housing
- locally ecologically-appropriate and affordable settlements.
How can the degrowth be applied to Australian cities by planners, government and policymakers?
Australia’s fastest growing capital city, Melbourne, is forecast to grow to a population of eight million by 2051. Everyone is tied to the juggernaut of environmentally unsustainable growth.
Home ownership is promoted as security even though mortgage debts burden householders and make them dependent on working for a growth economy.
In the book, we advocate alternative narratives to drive and interconnect agents for housing for degrowth.
Grassroots actors progressing housing for degrowth have found massive barriers in the form of council, state and national government regulations and policies.
The 25 contributors of the book all show the need for enabling mechanisms, instead of disabling hurdles, for degrowth housing activities.
This is the main message we delivered to policy makers, legislators and regulators at a European Union Parliament Postgrowth conference in mid-September 2018. Our recommendations included:
- revising planning and building application processes to enable simple self-built dwellings and collective land settlements
- enhancing social housing with sustainable renovations to preserve history and conserve nature
- enabling alternative, ecologically sustainable, basic household services
- applying maximum standards (such as space per capita) for homes, land and service use
- flexibly applying planning conditions along ecological and affordability criteria.
As soon as top down policies meet grassroots efforts, residents will be able to perform and experience housing for degrowth, citizens can engage in satisfying affordable and sustainable housing needs, and households can live with one planet footprints.
Associate Professor Anitra Nelson is an academic and activist at the RMIT Centre for Urban Research. She will be launching her new book Housing for Degrowth at RMIT’s Swanston Academic Building on Thursday 21 February 2019. Register to attend.
Be part of the conversation about Melbourne's future as our population heads towards 8 million. Join local and international leaders from industry, research and innovation, 18-20 February at RMIT. Find out more at Engaging for Impact 2019
Story: Chanel Bearder