What is social housing?

Social housing is the umbrella term for government subsidised short and long-term rental accommodation. It is made up of two types of housing: 

– public housing, which is owned and managed by State and Territory Governments, and 
– community housing, which is managed (and often owned) by not-for-profit organisations.

In recent decades, social housing has mainly been available to people on very low incomes, and who often have experienced homelessness, family violence or have other complex needs. However historically, social housing was more expansively available to people on low and middle incomes. 

As home ownership becomes more out of reach and housing stress climbs, the need for more social housing is increasing across diverse sections of the community. More social housing will also benefit those who don’t qualify for it as they face less competition for rentals and prices become more affordable.

What is affordable housing?

While Australia doesn’t have a common definition of ‘affordable housing’, this term broadly refers to housing that is priced within the financial means of low to moderate-income households. It is designed to ensure that people can access suitable and secure housing without experiencing excessive financial stress.

For some jurisdictions, ‘affordability’ is defined based on a household’s income, for others it is defined as housing costs that are lower than the prevailing local market rate. The goal of affordable housing is to ensure that a reasonable portion of a household’s income is allocated towards housing expenses (typically no more than 30%), thereby allowing individuals and families to meet their other basic needs.

What are the primary drivers of the housing crisis?

Housing in Australia has never been less affordable. For decades governments have stepped away from investing in social housing. We have gone from 10%-20% of new homes being built by the Government to around 1%, and we are now relying on landlords to shoulder the responsibility of providing the essential service of housing for about a third of the population.

Speculative investment, including the purchase of properties for capital gain rather than occupancy, has fueled price increases. This has further exacerbated affordability issues, as housing becomes more of an investment asset rather than a place to live.

What solutions does the campaign propose?

To solve the housing crisis, we advocate for more social and affordable housing; an end to unfair tax concessions; strengthening renters rights; raising and reforming rent assistance and a national housing and homelessness plan. Read our full policy platform.

Won’t abolishing tax breaks for investors result in fewer rentals?

Each year, billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions for property investors. These tax breaks overwhelmingly benefit high-income earners and create perverse incentives that distort the housing market. Decades of evidence tells us that these tax incentives drive up the cost of housing. This money would be better spent on building more social and affordable homes.

While some investors may redirect their funds to other investment opportunities, this does not necessarily mean that there would be a significant reduction in the availability of rentals. The home does not cease to exist when an investor leaves the market. An owner-occupier or other investors, including institutional investors, would step in to fill the gap and continue providing rental housing.

What is your stance on regulating short-term accommodation?

Short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, represent a fraction of the overall housing market. While they can contribute to housing affordability challenges in specific areas with high tourism, they are not the primary driver of the housing crisis, which is decades in the making. We advocate for the highest impact policy solutions such as increasing social and affordable housing supply and addressing systemic issues like perverse investor tax incentives.

Why does the campaign advocate for both social and affordable housing?

We advocate for both social and affordable housing because both forms of housing are essential to address the housing crisis and create a more equitable and inclusive society. Social housing is targeted towards the most vulnerable individuals and families who face significant housing stress. It provides secure, long-term housing and support services for those who cannot afford market rents or face other challenges. Affordable housing caters to a broader range of low- to moderate-income households who may not qualify for social housing but still struggle with housing affordability.

The housing crisis is a systemic issue requiring systemic change. By advocating for both social and affordable housing, the campaign seeks to address not just the symptoms but also the root causes of housing inequality and unaffordability. This includes addressing social housing supply and affordability measures, rental reforms, and policies that incentivise speculative investment.

How much social housing does Australia need?

The latest research commissioned by the Community Housing Industry Association shows 640,000 Australian households have housing needs that are not currently being met. These Australians were either experiencing homelessness, in overcrowded homes, or spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent and would be eligible for social housing. That is why we advocate for the Federal Government to invest in building 25,000 social housing properties each year to urgently meet this shortfall.

Isn’t the answer just increasing supply?

Simply adding supply won’t bring down the cost of housing. Australia has been building up to 240,000 homes each year for more than a decade. This hasn’t made housing more affordable. That’s because the primary goal of private developers is to maximise profits. This often results in the construction of housing that targets people with higher-incomes or housing that is not affordable for lower-income families.

Contrary to popular belief, Australia has an oversupply of dwellings compared to its needs and demographics. The undersupply is not in housing, but in social and affordable housing. There is an undersupply of the right homes, in the right places, for the people who need them most. That’s why governments must play a leading role in planning and development of housing policy and this cannot simply be left up to the private market.

What is your stance on migration?

Migration is not the primary driver of the housing crisis. While migration can influence housing demand to some extent, its impact is relatively minor compared to other factors like inadequate affordable supply and speculative investment.

The housing crisis is the result of decades of poor policy and chronic underinvestment. Even if we closed our borders today, the housing crisis would not be solved. Blaming migration alone oversimplifies the complex nature of the problem and disregards other significant factors. We advocate for the most effective solutions such as increasing social and affordable housing supply and reforming perverse investor tax incentives that overinflate the housing market.

Is there a role for institutional investors like superannuation funds in financing social housing?

There are a range of ways institutional investors can support the expansion of social and affordable housing, including through direct investment, social impact bonds, loans facilities and public-private partnerships. Superannuation funds can partner with the government or non-profit organisations to develop social housing projects, however the investor profit motive still requires governments to take primary responsibility for building social housing, just as it would for schools or hospitals, as an inherent public good.

What is your stance on rental freezes/capping?

We believe that governments must set clear limits for rent prices. Those reforms should be coupled with an end to no-cause evictions, to protect renters who challenge unfair rent increases, and independent enforcement of the rules. A system that relies on renters to act as the police is not a system that is fair or will work.