One of the biggest issues with housing affordability is that Australians are expecting more from where we live, craving that elusive “sense of community”. The problem is governments and developers are struggling to find the balance, especially between affordable housing and public space. Craig Baynham, Head Urban Designer at THG, says “The concept of ‘sweat equity’ may offer that balance between cheap and cheerful. Sweat equity revolves around the notion that people have to be ready and willing to work to create their communities.”
Sweat equity or community-based development uses community muscle to contribute to the development of public space and collective facilities. The Government and private sectors work together to teach the recipients of affordable housing the skills to contribute to their public space, whether it is through the landscaping of a local park or the construction of a neighbourhood centre. Through extensive community consultation, a government and development partnership establishes what the residents need and give them the skills to be able to create it.
The scheme has obvious social benefits, like up-skilling low income families with techniques they can take to the broader workforce. Sweat equity also creates a sense of pride and ownership in the public space, meaning residents are more likely to use and help maintain these spaces – all of which contributes to creating a sense of place. “It’s all about empowering the recipients of affordable housing, so they don’t feel like they are getting a handout,” Craig said.
Sweat equity examples
Evidence is showing that it actually works out cheaper to engage in a sweat equity program. The World Bank has tangible examples, particularly in third-world countries including In Pakistan’s Orangi Pilot Project, which provided sewerage facilities to nearly one million people in a poor area of Karachi. The costs of this project were one-eighth of conventional sewerage provided by city authorities.
An example of where this concept could play a starring role is in Australia’s Aboriginal communities. European design principles are thrust upon these communities, most of which don’t fit with the traditional Aboriginal lifestyle. As a result, the sense of community is lost. However, with sweat equity or community based development, the end-users work with the public and private sector to design and build spaces that foster interaction. Community development emphasizes participation, initiative and self help by local communities.