City News

“Meanwhile use”: City of Sydney trials housing women in need in vacant student accommodation

Deputy Lord Mayor of City of Sydney Jess Scully at the opening of the new Gibbons St affordable and social housing building in Redfern. Photo: Supplied.

By ELYSIA COOK

Vacant student accommodation, dwindling international students and soaring domestic violence reports are all a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Sydney is exploring an innovative opportunity as a result.

Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Scully is advocating for vacant student accommodation to be used as transitional housing for women at risk.

Over 178,000 students came to Sydney internationally each year before COVID.

“There’s 10,000 beds of dedicated student accommodation in our LGA, most going unused,” Scully told City Hub.

According to Annabelle Daniels, CEO of Women’s Community Shelters, disaster and domestic violence go hand in hand.

Meanwhile use is “an innovative idea and a very sensible solution at a time when we’ve got buildings that are under occupied,” she said.

Negotiations between the Student Accommodation Association, Women’s Community Shelters and City West Housing are in progress to trial “meanwhile use.” 

The proposal entails the occupation of student accommodation on a temporary basis for a 12-to-18-month period, at the end of which the tenants will be moved to the next stage of permanent affordable housing.

Scully said her goal for the project is to create a model that is applied in other LGAs, or even cities. The meanwhile building use sector is gaining popularity in countries like the UK.

The Gibbons St building, a project funded through Affordable and Diverse Housing Fund. Photo: Supplied.

Meanwhile use trial tribulations

CEO of Shelter NSW John Engeler said he would approach student accommodation providers motivated by profit with caution.

“Shelter NSW are in principle, in support of the concept of innovative use of resources, but it certainly shouldn’t be in a way where the system is open for gaming by private developers to make a windfall gain by having their usual development costs avoided or underwritten by the not-for-profit sector,” he said.

Meanwhile use has been criticised for its transferal conditions. Spaces need to be fit for the purpose of supporting women and people in crisis.

 “There is significant additional support required beyond the bricks and mortar,” he said.

 Scully said that liveability of student accommodation is more suitable than hotel accommodation. 

The ‘chop and change’ nature of meanwhile use means occupants can be left vulnerable in the short-term rental market. Scully said that the lease period is long enough to provide feelings of security.

 “What we’re talking about here is something more permanent, a place that you can call home,” she said.

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