By Lesley Bowen and Rosa McKenna

    A heritage overlay in Spotswood is entrenching living conditions from a previous century in a time of climate change and a housing supply crisis.

    We urgently need to improve building standards to insulate and mitigate energy and water efficiencies, as well as orient buildings to modern lifestyles. We need to prepare for climate extremes and adapt for severe temperatures and damaging wind and rain. Maintaining an old house is already costly but insulating an old building to meet future climate is prohibitive. 

    When the horse of overdevelopment has already bolted, forcing a set of rules for the purposes of preserving a streetscape seems arbitrary and punitive to the few affected homeowners. These streetscapes were destroyed decades ago by planning laws that have allowed rampant sub division, land banking for larger developments to occur and all in the name of economic and technical progress. What value a streetscape, a façade preserved for history with the cost borne not by the community who may enjoy it but by individual property owners?

    Nor is saving these houses contributing to our knowledge of the postwar era of cheap housing for the Commonwealth War Commission via the State Saving Bank of Victoria. The scheme was innovative for its time, but its value lay in the rapid supply of well-designed homes for returning soldiers and the post war immigration boom. It’s a policy and scheme that governments could draw on to address the current housing crisis. 

    Heritage overlays on remaining post war properties perversely place an unfair burden on those who invested in them and retained them. Already a cheap housing option 30 years ago, women are being disproportionately impacted by this poor policy. Many worked for decades without the same earning capacity as men, yet borrowed under the same mortgage terms. Any retirement savings have been eroded by low wages and family care and the ‘heritage’ home is their only superannuation.

    While some people have been able to borrow against the equity in their property to make capital improvements such as insulation, modern heating and solar power, others were forced to hold on to their properties as a roof over their families’ head. They’re now inhibited from capitalising on rising land value that others have already enjoyed. It is ironic that the protections now being put in place through the heritage overlay are precisely because neighbourhood heritage value, the post war legacy, has been largely destroyed by inappropriate renovations, new builds, units and duplexes. 

    If state and local governments value this heritage, then they need to recognise the financial burden to owners by providing rebates where the overlay is applied.

    Provide grants to upgrade homes so they will not only survive the next decade from dereliction or illegal demolition but be made fit-for-purpose providing secure homes for families into the future. 

    Or, there is the option like Maribyrnong to reverse this decision. 

    Our content is a labour of love, crafted by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the west. We encourage submissions from our community, particularly stories about your own experiences, family history, local issues, your suburb, community events, local history, human interest stories, food, the arts, and environmental matters. Below are articles created by community contributors. You can find their names in the bylines.

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