Sydney’s first dedicated affordable housing for transgender women

Sydney’s first dedicated affordable housing for transgender women
Image: Women walk across the rainbow crossing in Taylor Square, Darlinghurst. Source: Destination NSW

by GRACE JOHNSON

 

Sydney’s first dedicated housing project for transgender women will be built in the inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst in what is certainly a first for Australia, and possibly, the world.

In a meeting on Monday, City of Sydney councillors unanimously voted to endorse a staff recommendation for Council to support the establishment of affordable housing specifically for trans women.

Seven terrace houses in Darlinghurst are being sold with a 70 per cent discount to Common Equity, which will partner with All Nations housing co-operative to create affordable and permanent housing.

“Trans women are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and housing insecurity,” said Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore to City Hub. 

“Having access to a safe and secure home is one of the most important things for people’s mental health, income and employment,” she continued, highlighting the added security in housing models where tenants are their own landlord.

“It affects everything.”

The terrace houses in Darlinghurst, 3 of which are one-bedroom, the other four two-bedroom, will provide 11 beds for trans women. The All-Nations group currently has 7 members, but it is hoped that this number will grow.

“A greater sense of ownership and agency”

The properties were sold under the excess land scheme, which identifies unused or under-utilised properties that council owns then sells them to those most in need.

Housing co-operatives are communities of people who work together to meet their housing needs. The management and running of the co-op are shared between members.

Nick Sabel, CEO of Common Equity, told City Hub that this form of resident-led housing, aimed at people on a low to middle income, gives tenants a greater feeling of empowerment.

“Tenants in c0-located properties have a say in the management of their housing, which gives people a greater sense of ownership and agency,” he explained.

“They also have a stronger sense of community and support by living together and being close to their community, as they will be in Darlinghurst.”

Trans women are particularly vulnerable: they are more prone to experiencing harassment and violence as well as discrimination in securing employment and long-term housing.

“Not only does co-op housing give trans women support and additional safety, it also gives a voice to this very marginalised group,” said Mr Sabel.

Part of the solution to the housing affordability crisis 

There are currently 31 co-operative housing projects across New South Wales, but Mr Sabel is hopeful that this number will grow.

“We believe it can be part of the solution to the dire housing affordability crisis we’re currently experiencing,” he said.

Cr Ellsmore said there needs to be more diversity in what governments and councils choose to fund, but they tend to choose what they have funded before.

“Governments and councils need to back in more diverse and tenant-led projects like this, if we want to turn the housing crisis around,” she said.

“It is incredible hard to get affordable housing projects off the ground without government or council support.

“I am very proud that we were able to get Council to update its usual funding approaches, to enable cooperatives to apply for this housing,” she continued.

Independent Councillor Adam Worling similarly shared his full support for the project, saying it was a “wonderful opportunity.”

“This might be the first time it’s happening, but it might set a precedent for other city councils around Australia, or internationally.”

New research by Western Sydney University shows that co-operative housing, popular throughout the world but not yet fully embraced in Australia, has had “extraordinary” outcomes.

Lead researcher, Professor Louise Crabtree-Hayes from the university’s Institute for Culture and Society, said “the benefits of the housing co-operative model can be profound.”

The requirement for active participation amongst tenant-members drives positive outcomes, she continued, including “long-term housing stability, a strong sense of home and community, and the development of skills that we found to be directly connected to employment and educational outcomes.”

Liz Thomas, chair of the Australian Co-operative Housing Alliance (ACHA), said this model could diversify Australia’s housing system and address the worsening housing and homelessness crisis.

“Resolving Australia’s housing crisis requires a multi-faceted approach that includes housing co-operatives,” she said.

Next steps 

Though City of Sydney councillors unanimously voted to endorse the project, the final vote will occur on April 9 during the council meeting.

“But given that the councillors all endorsed the staff recommendation on Monday, I don’t anticipate that there’ll be any issue,” said Cr Ellsmore.

A further two properties in Potts Point are being sold to the B Miles Women’s Foundation for women with complex mental health issues.

“This is another example of a smaller but really important community organisation who needed the government to back them up and give them a chance to own property,” Cr Ellsmore continued.

But this is only one of many.

“There’s many people who want to set up co-ops, Aboriginal organisations, older women, who experience some of the highest rates of homelessness.”

“But land is so expensive in the inner city that it’s almost impossible to make those projects happen without the support of government or council.”

“I’m very excited we’ve been able to achieve this on this council, and hopefully it’ll inspire others as well to provide important housing for groups that really need it,” she said.

 

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