The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role housing plays in the health and safety of cities and their resilience to crisis events. But in the wake of the pandemic, many Australian cities and regions face consistent and worsening housing affordability. There is an opportunity to better utilise land use planning systems to engage the private sector in the provision of new affordable housing. But mandatory contribution requirements enacted, for example, through inclusionary zoning, have faced significant opposition, not only from the development industry, but from governments concerned about the impacts of planning regulation on overall housing production. Planning-based incentives constitute an alternative approach, offering a ‘carrot’ to the development industry. But there is limited evidence of how incentive-based policies, such as density bonuses, actually perform in practice, particularly in the Australian context.
In this paper, the authors examine evidence of the outcomes of a NSW planning policy (the State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing)) that provides a state-wide density bonus for infill, multi-unit housing projects that dedicate at least 20% of gross floor area for affordable rental housing. Implemented in 2009, affordable housing generated through the policy is required to remain affordable to eligible households for a minimum period of 10 years. In the absence of any formal data collection or reporting on the policy, we developed a unique, primary dataset capturing the characteristics of significant development proposals that have sought to utilise the density bonus provisions between 2009 and 2021. Through statistical analysis and spatial mapping of the primary data, we explore the types of developers that are taking up the incentive and the characteristics and locations of their projects, considering implications for affordable housing supply.