Homelessness ... Are tiny homes the answer in the Blue Mountains?

An initial proposal for a tiny homes village for the homeless at Medlow Bath airfield or on Lawson Golf course has been knocked on the head. But the solution to homelessness could lie in backyard granny flats. 

Build on your big block to end rising homelessness: Heading Home project group members: Wentworth Housing's Jenny Ranft, Mountains Community Resource Network's Kris Newton and Peter Poulos of Theo Poulos Real Estate.

Build on your big block to end rising homelessness: Heading Home project group members: Wentworth Housing's Jenny Ranft, Mountains Community Resource Network's Kris Newton and Peter Poulos of Theo Poulos Real Estate.

The idea for these projects followed several community forums after the award-winning Heading Home Ending Homelessness program was started two years ago by Wentworth Community Housing.

An independent evaluation of Heading Home Ending Homelessness was released last Friday in Springwood showing the positive impact its activities have had in the Nepean district but also highlighting the need for more affordable housing.

Wentworth is now working with three local councils – Blue Mountains, Penrith and the Hawkesbury –   as well as real estate agents, charities and government agencies, to find land sitting idle for the next five years which could potentially be turned into a tiny homes village for the homeless.

Wentworth’s Heading Home project manager Eva Gerencer said Medlow Bath airfield was too inaccessible and the golf course option was ruled out.

Ms Gerencer said VicRoads (the equivalents of the Roads and Maritime Service) recently donated land scheduled for road widening to house tiny homes for the next three to five years.  Gosford Council was pioneering a second tiny homes project after one opened in April this year.

“Three to five years is still pretty secure compared to private rental,” she added.

On Saturday November 10 Wentworth will hold an expo to encourage Mountains homeowners to build garden flats or “granny flats” to increase the supply of low cost housing for people at risk of homelessness. They estimate these 20 – 25 square metres homes would cost about $65,000 to build on the average flat large Mountains block and Wentworth could guarantee the rental income.

Ms Gerencer said: “Waiting on federal and state government funding for the number of houses we need it’s not in the foreseeable future, we have to look at what we can do locally.

“Tiny homes and garden flats are options within the means of local communities and hopefully do not take years of planning or significant capital investment to achieve.”

Wentworth divisional manager Jenny Ranft said while “conceptionally it (a tiny homes village) is an option,  it’s more likely for the other (garden flats) in the Mountains. Blue Mountains Council has changed the LEP (Local Environment Plan) to allow for garden studios (with kitchens) and that’s far more likely.”

“We will target homeowners wanting to get the best value they can out of their property as they head towards retirement,” Ms Ranft added.

A council spokeswoman confirmed council was in “early stage discussions about possible suitable (tiny homes) sites” and had provided advice on one possible site and welcomed proposals from Wentworth on others. 

Council had taken a “lead role, in the other Heading Home initiative, called Secondary Dwellings Homelessness Strategy (Garden Flats) EXPO”. The expo will encourage householders to take up build-and-support packages provided by Wentworth.

The Wentworth report contained data which followed surveys since November 2016 when Wentworth tracked 135 homeless people – including 12 families –  in the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Penrith regions. 

Wentworth interviewed 91 of those homeless people. By this year they had ensured 55 per cent of those they surveyed were off the streets. But Ms Gerencer said they realised they needed other solutions to get the remaining 45 per cent into homes.

The study recently found 24 people and eight families remained housed and over 92 per cent reported improved wellbeing.

Once housed, 71 per cent of people had more support to call on in time of a crisis and 50 per cent had started using a new health or community service.

“The people who participated in the study said that having a safe place to live has been most helpful for them to get their life sorted,” Wentworth chief executive officer, Stephen McIntyre, said. 

Most of the people Wentworth interviewed had been homeless for two-and-a-half years and more than half had had a traumatic background that led to homelessness and 64 per cent had used a mental health service in the previous six months.

According to the 2016 Census, there are nearly 38,000 homeless. Rates of homelessness increased by 31 per cent for young people and 24 per cent for older people between 2011 and 2016. There are about 60,000 names on the NSW public housing list and an up to ten-year waiting list for that affordable housing.  

In 2016/17, about 74,000 people were supported by homelessness services – a 43 per cent increase on 2013/2014. Only one in three of those people had managed to find permanent accommodation when their support ended. 

The NSW government has pledged more than $1 billion for homelessness services over the next four years.