Granny flats Melbourne allowed at last
Affordable housing pods bring relief to COVID-hit homeowners and families
Answering the needs of many people needing to build granny flats in Melbourne, Victoria is adopting fast-track approvals for secondary dwelling units like Backyard Pods to provide more low-cost housing at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has led many families to rethink their accommodation options.
The state quietly launched a pilot program in late August allowing owners to place small-scale “granny flat or garden studio” style units of up to 60 sq m on the same lot as their existing residence via a streamlined approval process.
The founder of Backyard Pods, Melanie Williamson, says the COVID-19 pandemic has already led to a surge in interest in the cost-efficient modular kits for home extensions and granny flats sold by her company across the eastern states.
“There are countless students who have lost hospitality jobs and singles or couples that are buckling down to get through this period of recession by returning to live with their families,” she says.
“Other callers said they’d dropped plans to put their elderly Dad or Mum into hostel care, concerned they might never see them again. Or they just wanted to accommodate a vulnerable member of their family on their own property because of travel restrictions during the pandemic.
“The majority of inquiries from Melbourne during the COVID crisis have been from people trying to resolve accommodation for an extended family situation, on a low budget, without moving home.”
About the new code for secondary dwellings (granny flats)
The scheme, introducing a new code for “secondary dwellings” which may be detached or attached to an existing home, is underway in four council areas and expected to be rolled out to other parts of the state after the six-month trial is concluded in March 2021.
The code will help unlock new income streams for homeowners, more diverse and affordable housing, and ways for multi-generational families to stay together, according to the state’s Planning Department.
Melbourne architect Nam Hyunh says it will be a “game-changer”, bringing Victoria into line with easier rules in NSW on granny flat-style accommodation. “Nobody really knows about it yet, but I think there will be a surge in demand,” he says. “They can use the space themselves or rent it out. That has never been allowed before.”
Applications will be assessed through the VicSmart planning stream, with a 10-day process decided by councils without the need to advertise. This will slash the wait time from the current standard of 60 days, according to Master Builders Victoria.
The reform is intended to make better use of existing housing stock and address social impacts. A lack of affordable, smaller housing has made it harder for Victorians to age in place and remain near loved ones, the department says.
Granny flats Melbourne for extended family or rental income
Mr Huynh, the director of 3Corners Architects in Footscray, sees pent-up demand for secondary units among homeowners who want to share their real estate with younger family members facing an inflated housing market.
“I have worked with couples in this situation. They are getting older, they don’t need so much space for themselves. They might move into the smaller area, so they can enjoy having their kids and grandkids around but still have their own space. Or some might say, if you can’t afford your own place or need to save a deposit to buy a home, you can stay in the flat outside.”
He says significant interest is likely to come from property owners interested in backyard units for rental income.
“This group is really big. They have land, but they can’t subdivide it to create an entirely separate residence on its own title; so the secondary structure is a good option for them.”
The four councils taking part in the pilot program are Kingston in southeast Melbourne, Moreland in the city’s inner north, and two outside the metro area – Murrindindi, north of the city, and Greater Bendigo.
Backyard Pods, launched in 2016, has rapidly become the national market leader in versatile flat-pack building kits, helped by a strong performance in the Melbourne area.
Initially, the company was advised not to bother trying to help homeowners in Victoria with backyard building projects because of the state’s onerous local government planning requirements.
“But Melburnians kept calling us, saying it wasn’t fair people in NSW could have granny flats when they couldn’t. We started putting these customers in touch with professionals like Nam who could assist their applications. Many of our Melbourne customers succeeded, despite the difficulties,” Ms Williamson says.
More practical than former dependent person’s unit (DPU)
Victorian homeowners could already put up a “dependant person’s unit” (DPU) on a residential lot, typically for an elderly relative named in the building application. But depending on the council, the unit may need to be removed once the dependant person is no longer living there, it should not be wholly self-contained, and cannot be rented out. These rules were too costly and restrictive for most families.
Otherwise, secondary dwellings have been treated as multi-unit developments, adding to the complexity.