Over the past year, it has been incredible to see the support for a social housing-led economic recovery- from community members and a range of “unusual suspects”, including leading economists and the broader property industry. Never before have I seen such momentum and advocacy for increased investment in housing for those that need it most. Disappointingly, this did not translate to any real commitment in the recent Federal Budget.
Before I comment on housing, it is prudent to acknowledge the Federal Government’s measures to support women through increased investment in aged care, childcare, mental health and critical funding for services to assist survivors of domestic and family violence. The Budget also provides additional funds for frontline services and programs for migrant, refugee and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women, as well as a new scheme to support single parents to buy a home with a reduced deposit, which will largely assist women. These are all important initiatives that will undoubtedly assist their intended, specific target groups (although the single parent deposit scheme is not without issue). But what is missing is anything that even remotely begins to address the system-wide issue of a chronic under-supply of safe, secure, affordable housing for people on low or very low incomes.
With the impacts of the pandemic still being felt, there are, of course, competing priorities for government funds, but surely housing has to be a fundamental consideration. We are currently seeing a property market characterised by rapidly increasing prices and incredibly low rental availability, with a huge unmet demand for social and affordable rental housing options. Affordable housing is becoming less and less within the reach of the state’s most vulnerable, with current economic pressures pushing more households onto the public and community housing waiting lists- 47,000 here in Queensland alone. We know – and it has been evidenced by leading economists- that post-pandemic investment in social housing would have created new construction jobs, stimulated the economy AND created much-needed homes for essential workers and Australians at risk of homelessness.
Instead of focusing on further stimulating middle-class demand for home purchase opportunities and in doing so, further inflating the markets and reducing affordability, the Federal Government missed an important opportunity. This Budget could have been the one to call upon governments to work together, in partnership with the community housing sector and the private sector. It could have demonstrated a commitment to achieving systemic change, with the announcement of a national housing strategy to coordinate and direct resources where they are needed. Predictable funding for affordable housing could have been next, at the right level to address the unmet need. The Federal Government could have sought (and would have gained) bipartisan support for this approach, giving confidence to investors and the sector that this is something over the long term that industries can plan for, and scale up to participate in. All levels of government could have been galvanised to work together to ensure that affordable housing is funded and able to be delivered where it is needed, right across our cities and regions. But alas that is not what happened on Budget Night.
Since the Budget, numerous analysts have commented on the absence of any real measures to address housing affordability, or to provide more affordable housing. On the other side of the political divide, Labor pledged in its Budget Reply to establish a new $10bn social housing fund to build 30,000 affordable homes for vulnerable Australians and frontline workers, if they are successful at the next federal election. Whilst we sincerely welcome this commitment, the very problem is that it depends on politics. This issue is far too important, and affects far too many Australians, for it to be simply left to political swings.
We urgently need real federal leadership on housing affordability, and a tangible strategy to ensure every Australian has access to a safe, secure and affordable home.
Increasing the supply of social and affordable housing is central to BHC’s mission. We will continue to advocate for investment in affordable homes, and to work with our partners and the broader property sector to create better housing outcomes for those living in rental stress or at risk of homelessness.
BHC – Chief Executive Officer