Investing in housing is an opportunity to set people up for success
2 November 2020 at 6:13 pm
Mark Feenane, executive officer of the Victorian Public Tenants Association, shares his thoughts on why housing all Australians is an economic imperative, as part of a series exploring the role that housing can and should play within Australian society.
What is the economic cost compared to the financial or stimulus benefit of building more much-needed public housing?
Clearly there is a societal cost of not housing people, as evidenced by the burgeoning number of homeless people in this country, but is this less important than finding the money to house those most in need?
The KPMG evaluation of the post-GFC housing stimulus was every $1 spent generated $1.30 return in the community. This is the financial win. If by housing more people, we can also save money on welfare referrals, prisons, or mental health costs etc there is likely an additional financial benefit. However, it’s more than just the economic argument.
The real value proposition for more public housing is what it delivers in human terms to the individuals it houses and the community benefit generally.
Perhaps the most important infrastructure spend the government can engage in now and post the COVID-19 pandemic, is to invest in public housing and facilitate growth in social and affordable housing more generally. There is now a broad coalition calling for significant investment in social housing and this must be high on the list of government priorities as we navigate through these very difficult times.
It is imperative that any infrastructure expenditure adds true value to people’s lives – we need to get the best bang for the money being invested. So, it must be about investing to generate outcomes now and for generations to come. Government investment in housing is not just about economic stimulus but for all that housing provides, and what it leads to as a platform for life.
This is an opportunity to set people up for success. This challenge to government requires true leadership and vision. Making life better for Australians must be the aim; party politics should not be the barrier. Balancing the competing priorities of government may be challenging but that is what we elect politicians to do. It is time for them to step up.
Government must be a conduit to helping people achieve their potential. Unfortunately, many people are missing out on the basics and lack the opportunity and resources to change their situation. Housing is the main driver towards the better more fulfilling life that everyone aspires to – it provides a solid foundation for life and opens pathways to the future.
We all share some common needs – food, clothing, and shelter, without which you cannot really operate, engage, or participate at a higher level. In Australia, most of us have access to adequate food and clothing, although situations and choices can sometimes impact on this. There are numerous agencies established to help bridge the gap by providing emergency relief and essentials for people experiencing tough times and financial hardship in the short term. Meeting the very significant cost to obtain or provide a safe and secure long-term home is a far more challenging ask.
The capital cost of housing, particularly in a market which wants and sees property prices increasing year on year, is seemingly prohibitive to government/s from a budgetary perspective. This is despite the accompanying bonus of increases in sales tax and stamp duties and the ability of government to borrow at record low interest rates.
Ensuring its citizens are adequately housed should be a non-negotiable and expected priority and measure of government.
Housing (shelter) is highly valued by Victorians based on a recent survey conducted by Essential Poll which showed that, regardless of the demographic or political leaning, there was significant support across the board for increases in all forms of social and affordable housing. More than three quarters of Victorians want the state government to build significantly more public and community housing as part of its response to COVID-19.
Everyone needs a place to call home – having safe, secure, and affordable housing is the prize of highest value and the greatest cost benefit by any analysis. Housing is the major enabler of a valuable life.
The housing value proposition, when framed in terms of human values, sits alongside notions of what is important to having a satisfying and rewarding life including: health and wellbeing, safety and security, community participation and belonging, education and skills attainment, jobs and job security, personal validation and sense of identity, self-fulfilment, achieving potential etc, all leading to positive valuable life well spent. The list goes on.
What is the cost in human terms of not having safe, secure, and affordable housing for everyone? We need to get the balance and investment right. The prize awaits.
This article is the fourth of a 12-part series, Housing all Australians, which intends to draw on a range of perspectives centred around housing and homelessness. We will hear a range of views from business, the not-for-profit sector and hopefully government, as to why they believe housing is an important social and economic building block for Australia’s future prosperity.