By Luke Michael. A coalition of not for profits has joined forces to call for a drastic reform of Australia’s housing system, to address rising homelessness and a shortfall of affordable housing.
The Everybody’s Home campaign was launched at the National Press Club on Tuesday, supported by a range of not for profits including the Salvation Army, Mission Australia, the Australian Council of Social Service and the Council to Homeless Persons.
Everybody’s Home campaign spokesperson, Kate Colvin, said housing affordability was a critical issue that the major parties were failing to address.
“Making sure everyone has a home is a top order priority for Australians but it is not matched by action from our political leaders. That needs to change,” Colvin said.
“Genuine home buyers are missing out to people building investment portfolios. Growing competition for rental properties is driving up prices and rental insecurity.
“There’s a chronic shortage of social and affordable rental options, and it’s causing record levels of homelessness.”
The campaign has outlined five key policies it would like to see urgently implemented by government.
These are to reform the tax system to support first home buyers, to implement tenancy reforms that better protect renters, to offer greater assistance for those suffering chronic rental stress, to create a plan to end homelessness by 2030 and to develop a national housing strategy.
In order to meet an identified shortfall of 500,000 social and affordable rental homes, the campaign said a national housing strategy should include new capital investment to generate 300,000 new social and Indigenous housing properties.
The campaign’s proposed strategy would also include a new tax incentive or direct subsidy to entice private sector investment in 200,000 low cost rental properties.
Kasy Chambers, executive director of Anglicare Australia, which is a partner organisation for the campaign, said Australia’s current housing system was “failing people”.
“Everybody knows there’s a problem with housing: a generation of people have been priced out of home ownership. There is a shortage of secure, affordable rental properties that work for people,” Chambers said.
“And Anglicare agencies are telling us that more and more people are being pushed into homelessness – a fact that is borne out by last week’s staggeringly high numbers from the ABS.
“That’s why Anglicare Australia is proud to be a partner in the Everybody’s Home campaign for better housing. We know there are simple things our government can do to fix it, and make the system fairer for everyone.”
According to an Essential poll, released on Tuesday to coincide with the launch, 62 per cent of Australians thought the federal government was not doing enough about housing affordability.
But assistant minister to the treasurer, Michael Sukkar, told Pro Bono News that “a permanent feature of Turnbull government budgets will be addressing housing affordability”.
“It’s clear that after several years of very strong growth in prices, we have seen a cooling in the national housing market in the last six months, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. This is in part due to the swift macroprudential measures that were taken to reduce interest-only and investor loans,” Sukkar said.
“However, we can’t rest on our laurels. The government remains committed to reducing pressure on housing affordability for Australians across the housing spectrum, from first home buyers, to older Australians looking to downsize, to those who rely on social housing, and those who are experiencing homelessness.”
Sukkar said that the government’s housing affordability plan detailed in the last budget was progressing well.
“Legislation has been passed on super and tax measures, including the First Home Super Saver Scheme,” he said.
“Legislation has also been introduced for the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) and National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC), following public consultation processes.”
The polling also found that 60 per cent of Australians wanted the federal opposition to do more around affordable housing.
In response to this, Labor’s shadow minister for housing and homelessness, Senator Doug Cameron, told Pro Bono News that the opposition would “have more to say” on housing policy in the near future.
“Labor announced a tranche of housing and homelessness policies in April 2017. We said then, and it remains the case, that we will have more to say on housing policy before the next election,” Cameron said.
“Labor has led the debate on housing affordability by announcing reform to negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions –the biggest policy change proposed by an opposition in recent memory, as well as taking the lead on committing to a national homelessness strategy.
“Labor made homelessness a national priority when last in government, and will do so again if elected. We are confident, that despite the recent rise in homelessness seen under the Liberals and Nationals, that we can significantly reduce homelessness by 2025.”
Cameron said Labor broadly agreed with the campaign that there was a need to develop a national housing strategy and change tenancy laws to better protect renters.
But he said that national leadership was required for this to come into fruition.
“The Turnbull government is not providing any leadership on housing policy. Its housing package announced in last year’s budget was a grab bag of unrelated measures that tinkered around the edges of the problem,” he said.
“Labor is committed to having a national homelessness strategy and will work constructively with states and territories to develop one. Labor will re-establish the National Housing Supply Council to inform a national strategy.
“As increasing numbers of people are renting in the private rental market, a key reform the states need to look very seriously at is reform of their tenancy laws to provide security of tenure and protect against arbitrary evictions.”
The shadow minister also said that charities and not for profits had an important role in helping to address issues around housing affordability and homelessness.
“Labor has held roundtable consultations and countless discussions with the charities and not for profits involved in the Everybody’s Home campaign,” Cameron said.
“Since the 2016 election our door has always been open to not only Everybody’s Home participants but a wide range of housing sector stakeholders.
“Unlike the Turnbull government, we won’t shut the door on the sector. The sector plays an important advocacy and policy role and we respect them for the work it does.”
Colvin said that both the major parties had “a very poor report card” with addressing housing affordability and that the Everybody’s Home campaign would put the focus on government taking genuine action.
“We need to address the entire housing system to make sure every Australian has a safe, secure roof over their head whether they’re buying, renting or at risk of homelessness,” she said.