THIRTY affordable housing units will be built on the former Newcastle rail corridor by the end of next year.
The state government announced on Monday it had selected not-for-profit housing provider Evolve Housing to build the Merewether Street project after initially failing to win council support.
The complex is in a prime location – nestled between the harbour, the future Civic light rail stop and the University of Newcastle’s city campus – with the units available for rent by “key workers” whose income falls under a threshold.
Evolve Housing chief executive Andrea Galloway said construction of the two and three-bedroom units planned to start by December and was expected to be ready by the end of 2019.
Ms Galloway said her organisation’s definition of “key workers” included early career emergency services personnel and teachers, but also extended to “anyone who creates a community”.
The organisation has previously accepted tenants from aged care, retail and hospitality backgrounds, as well as students, provided they hold work and meet the “moderate” income test. “It’s all those key workers who make a community happen,” she said. “You don’t want them driving hours to get into an environment when they can actually live a couple of minutes from where they work.”
Hunter Development Corporation chief executive Michael Cassel said the state government’s contribution to the project was about $4 million, which includes the value of the land.
Evolve will be funding the rest with the total value of the project estimated to be between $10 and $12 million.
Announcing the project last year, the government initially asked the council to chip in $3 million from a residual fund known as Building Better Cities. However, the move was slammed by some councillors, with Therese Doyle leading the charge against the proposal by accusing the state government of “posing like knights in shining armour” when they were actually “steamrolling” the council into rezoning the corridor.
But that debate appeared all in the past on Monday when lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes joined a press conference alongside Mr Cassel and parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald.
Cr Nelmes said the council would instead be contributing to another affordable housing project expected to be announced at a later date.
She said the council was “very firm” in insisting on “a number of caveats” before it rezoned the corridor.
Asked if the 30 units was a “drop in the ocean”, Mr MacDonald admitted it was “extremely difficult” to make affordable housing projects stack up. “I think we will look at more,” he said. “As we’ve all seen, it is difficult to make the numbers work under affordable housing. You need a big backing from the state and federal government and then bring all the partners together.”
The Catholic Church recently gave up on its plans for a 15-storey apartment block with affordable housing on the Empire Hotel site.