Housing Affordability Must be a National Focus
5 May 2015 at 11:50 am
The release of Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot shows just how dire the situation is for many Australians simply trying to keep a roof over their heads, writes Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Senator Jan Lucas.
We’ve known for some time that finding affordable housing is becoming harder and harder for many people, but data which suggests that even a working couple may struggle to find an affordable rental property is not only alarming, it’s disturbing.
Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot provides the evidence that unless steps are taken now to make housing more affordable, a majority of people on low incomes, young families and people with disability will be forced into a housing crisis.
Unless there is a concerted effort in the immediate future to address this issue, the risk of people becoming homeless would become a reality for many.
We do not want a generation of people with no other option but to be pushed into fringe housing like boarding houses and caravan parks because this will simply widen the already unsustainable inequalities.
Understanding the characteristics of Australia’s housing affordability problem is critical to the future of our economy – if we do not fix it we will be faced with a generation of people unable to purchase homes.
Consideration needs to be given to the impact a lack of affordable housing will have on the nation’s productivity growth – high housing costs can push people out of communities who otherwise might have provided other valuable resources to the community, such as skills.
Similarly, labour mobility will be limited unless a way is found to increase affordable housing stock in our cities and communities because people will be unable to move into areas of workforce need if they cannot meet the high housing costs.
Strategies must be developed now to increase the availability of affordable housing for the lower end of the market in a way that is sustainable into the future, meaning we have to address both the supply-side and demand-side issues.
Labor in Government had a proud record of helping to deliver affordable housing for Australians and their families, investing a record $26 billion in a broad-ranging and innovative affordable housing agenda – the single largest investment in housing affordability in Australian history.
Our investment directly contributed to the construction of one in every 20 new homes through programs like our $6 billion investment in social housing which helped to deliver over 21,000 social housing homes across the nation.
Then there was our $4.5 billion National Rental Affordability Scheme, which will add more than 37,000 new affordable rental homes across Australia, but the Abbott Government went ahead and scrapped the NRAS program in its last budget.
On top of that, they axed the Housing Help for Seniors program which was to deliver support for pensioners over age pension age who ‘downsize’ their home, and they scrapped the First Owners Saver Accounts which helped Australians to save for their first home and enter the housing market. They also abolished the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness and disbanded the COAG Select Council on Housing and Homelessness, then withdrew the Commonwealth’s role from the community housing sector’s National Regulatory Council.
There is real and justified concern within the housing sector that the Abbott Government does not see it as their responsibility to address the issue of housing affordability. Pushing a review of housing and homelessness into the Reform of Federation White Paper is more about the Abbott Government abrogating their role in housing and passing it off to the states and territories.
The Abbott Government is putting the bottom line over and above the lives and welfare of Australians, most particularly those Australians who are the most vulnerable or marginalised from society including people living with mental illness.
Mr Abbott has recently said his second Budget will be frugal but responsible, because it’s a budget in repair. This gives no heart to people who need help keeping a roof over their heads or to the organisations that support them.
Funding was cut from them too – just days before Christmas Mr Abbott took away the funding from the Community Housing Federation Australia, from Homelessness Australia and from National Shelter. He shut down the voices of people who otherwise do not have a voice.
Anglicare’s report calls on the Federal Government to take a leadership role in addressing housing supply issues and coordination of a nation strategy, but the Abbott Government’s record on affordable housing has been shameful and more than 18 months on they still have no policy.
Labor’s leader Bill Shorten has highlighted the importance of developing a Housing Affordability Strategy and that he why he has tasked both myself and the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen to spearhead this work.
In March we held a Housing Affordability Roundtable with community stakeholders, including academics, think tanks and property stakeholders to discuss what direct and indirect actions the Commonwealth might take to promote affordable housing.
We also released a Housing Affordability Discussion Paper to help stimulate community debate.
Together, Chris Bowen and I have been engaging with stakeholders since the last election. I have also been using the Senate Economics Reference Committee Inquiry into Affordable Housing to consult on and help develop Labor’s policy approach.
We will continue to work with the housing sector and communities to help people into affordable housing and keep a roof over their heads.
About the author:
Jan Lucas represents Queensland in the Senate as a member of the Australian Labor Party.