There is a lot of discussion surrounding build-to-rent (BTR) projects in South East Queensland at the moment.
People have been building unit blocks that they own outright and rent to tenants for years, so BTR is nothing new. But from an asset class perspective, it’s a relatively new concept for the Queensland market and one that major developers are pursuing strongly in 2021.
As a planner, I’ve been involved in approvals for ‘typical’ medium-high density residential developments in South East Queensland for years. But as the market turns its attention to BTR investments, a new definition of build-to-rent and what such developments should incorporate is emerging.
COVID-19 has seen a global shift in perspectives about what’s important in our homes, and what we need from them as we spend more time in them. Whether you’re an owner or a renter, liveability and amenity are key drivers.
While the trend towards enhanced amenity certainly pre-dates the pandemic, COVID-19 has definitely reinforced its importance. New build-to-rent projects are responding to this need, and creating what I believe is a newer, better standard for apartment living.
Rental apartment buildings are renowned for having high occupant turnover, which isn’t desirable from an owner's perspective. There’s nothing worse for an owner than an empty investment property that’s costing you money and providing no return.
On the flip side, renters face the ever-present fear of an eviction notice should an owner decide to sell, move in themselves, or hike up the rent.
While not all people have a bad renting experience, an underlying awareness of these risks has a flow-on effect. Renters may be less willing to engage with neighbours, socialise and make friends, because who knows if their lease will be renewed in 12 months’ time?
To improve occupancy rates, reduce turnover, and improve renters’ experiences, build-to-rent developers understand that their buildings must be better, and offer more.
I think the ‘new’ version of build-to-rent is a great addition to the Queensland market. It provides housing diversity and the option of long-term rental for those who want it—something that’s almost completely missing right now.
However, BTR does raise some practical issues when it comes to planning and project feasibility. Based on my experiences working on one of the first new build-to-rent proposals in Brisbane, my observations are:
COVID-19 is facilitating another big shift in our local market—the great migration of people from the southern states to Queensland. This is putting upward pressure on housing prices and reducing rental vacancy rates significantly.
Build-to-rent offers a wide range of benefits. Another big opportunity to explore is the capacity to integrate affordable and accessible housing options into these projects. The early projects delivered as part of the Queensland State Government’s pilot program are offering subsidised rent for tenants who meet certain criteria.
What if a portion of any new build-to-rent building was used to provide affordable housing for low-income earners, accessible housing, or specialist disability accommodation? This could help us not only solve some of the issues we are facing in our rental market but contribute to the creation of more equitable and diverse communities while we’re at it.
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