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IN LOCO (owners as their own developers)

A slightly odd vice of mine is an appreciation of the joy of acronyms. Some might consider this an annoying affectation but I prefer the tag of charming foible. Four years ago in a quixotic flurry of self-righteous indignation aimed at the lumbering leviathan that is our planning system I instigated a national competition to address to dearth of housing choices available in the Territory. In thinking of a catchy title for the enterprise I focused primarily on the potency of the acronym and managed to boil the almost incomprehensible ‘New Experimental Architectural Typology’ Housing into the more palatable NEAT Housing.  The competition garnered enthusiastic support from the ACT Government, the Land Development, ACTPLA, Defence Housing, and ACT Housing. Fifty seven innovative entries from around the country and many heavy hitters in the development diaspora voiced support. Three weary years later this Don Quixote continues to tilt at windmills to see it realised. ”if this initiative fails to get up it will be over my dead body” is a quote from the head of a major government organisation promising a change to the housing palette in Canberra. That promise still lies on fallow ground.

This column has had a particularly strong focus in recent times on the lack of housing choices for those wishing to age in place.  There are many in the community marooned on large blocks by reactionary planning policies. They would love to downsize, not to an apartment block but rather stay in location with a smaller house and garden and better utilise their monster blocks of land. These blocks have been arbitrarily zoned as inappropriate for more than one dwelling. Let’s be frank, Canberra is one of the most spread eagled cities on the entire planet. The notion that everyone wants a quarter acre block is out dated similarly to open cast coal mining and hacking down prime old growth forests.

Perhaps something can be achieved ‘despite’ the government rather than ‘because of it’. Developers generally incite the butt end of distain. Many in their Walter Mitty moments however have entertained the notion of dipping their toes in the shark infested development pond to make an easy buck on an undercapitalised asset. Whist giving advice to developers on how best to go about developing a block I often wonder why more people don’t weaken to capitalist tendencies themselves; they could be the ones swanning around in the new Beemer. They have the asset in the land but I guess they don’t have access to the design, building and financing skill set necessary to pull it all together.

How about his for a thought experiment: perhaps owners of suitable blocks of land (even in groups owning adjacent properties) might act as their own developer in a joint venture with an architect, a builder and a financier? They would all jointly take the risk and share the potential rewards in an equitable manner. The mechanics of this could be fairly straight forward with the land owner either sharing in the overall profit or retaining a home in the development and thus realising the ambition of aging in place.

I propose to start a register of interested parties who would like to investigate this notion and have called it ‘In Loco’. In addition and more importantly this may provide a base group to lobby the government to amend its archaic attitude to zoning and unban infill in the burbs. Drop me a line if you are interested.