New federal government and affordable housing

New federal government and affordable housing
Cory Memery

The new Labor government will establish a housing supply council to advise on a plan for affordable housing across Australia.

Minister Julie Collins’ announcement on what it will do can be found at the following link: ministers.dss.gov.au/speeches/8756

This is an important break with the defeated Morrison government’s approach. Tony Abbott abolished Labor’s previous supply council in 2013, saying existing federal government departments would develop policies for the then government.

Public housing was ignored completely by successive LNP governments. Ex-PM Morrison did set up the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation when he was Treasurer to issue government guaranteed bonds, but it has only been lending the funds raised to community housing organisations or in the case of one project in Melbourne a consortium of a community housing organisation and private investors.

Federal Labor has committed to supporting the building of 30,000 dwellings over five years of social, community and so-called affordable housing.

There was criticism of this commitment during the election campaign. The best, most accurate assessment for me has been by the Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) which recently stated publicly: “The government’s miniature investment in ‘affordable housing’ seems like adding a teaspoon of sugar when the cup has a hole in it.”

Housing is in crisis on a number of fronts

Homeowners with mortgages have already felt the impact of rising interest rates. Inflation as measured by the CPI has gone up dramatically this year but much of it has had nothing to do with rises that can be controlled or reduced through higher interest rates.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine driving up oil and gas prices; fresh food prices due to climate change havoc; imported furniture and building materials price hikes; and an overheated residential renovation and construction sector created by the Morrison government, have all been key contributors.

The Morrison government’s policies have created a crisis in the residential construction industry. Not enough skilled workers for all the contracts signed and materials prices up strongly and now putting acute financial pressure on builders.

Last year and in the lead up to the federal election, money was handed over to homeowners wanting to renovate or extend what housing they already had. First home buyers were able to borrow with low deposits and have mortgage insurance payments waived.

The mantra from the federal Morrison government had been jobs, jobs, jobs and now this has all been tossed in the bin by the Reserve Bank of Australia raising interest rates.

Rents in private regional housing have gone sky high and are going up in Melbourne.

Meanwhile the latest number of people – adults and children – on the Victorian Housing Register is now around 120,000 and is increasing.

Victorian government programs

The original Public Housing Renewal Program (PHRP) announced in 2017 has seen estates demolished and now under the Big Housing Build (BHB), there are more proposals for demolitions.

At Oakover Rd, South Preston construction has only recently started on 461 private investor and homeowner apartments, plus 66 community housing owned and just 35 public but community housing managed ones. To describe 461 private dwellings as public housing renewal is a fiction.

At Walker St in Northcote, $3 million luxury apartments will be built with the best views over Merri Creek but all the replacement community housing will be down on High St near the bridge. To describe this as public housing renewal is also fictitious.

At North Richmond money has already been spent on improving green spaces and recreation areas but all of this will be soon bulldozed and the number of dwellings on the estate doubled with no clarity about who it will be for: private renters paying market rents or so-called essential workers paying slightly less that market rents – 90 per cent.

Down in Port Melbourne, Homes Victoria have been busy relocating residents of the Barak Beacon estate by spending up big on leasing local private dwellings or providing accommodation out of the area. The homes at this estate are structurally sound, can be refurbished at reasonable cost and more public housing could be built on the land that is available on the estate. This estate was never advised in the past as in need of redevelopment.

Just out the blue before Christmas last year tenants were told they had to move out. No consultations, no transparency on why, just an order: you are all moving out!

Not one new public or community home has been built and occupied on these demolished estates over the more than four years since the PHRP was announced.

The state government is also continuing to sell-off public land that could be used to build public housing.

Let’s move from chaos to a sensible plan

A sensible plan can be put together: all it needs is the political will and a commitment to seeing affordable, secure housing as a human right for all not something only the better off can buy (and sell for profit).

Key elements:

  • A new Victorian Government after the November 28 election should get serious in its representations to the federal government and seek to massively expand its election commitment and include public housing;
  • Engage local councils to put in place mandatory inclusionary zoning (MIZ) on all major developments. City of Melbourne argued for this to be included in the new Arden suburb plan but were rebuffed by the state government. MIZ land contributions would have public housing construction funded by both federal and state governments;
  • Only approve additional migration and higher overseas student numbers when there is a plan to accommodate them without competition for existing homes; and
  • Put in place a training plan to deliver the skills needed for the industry. •
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