As noted in this comment from a reader, I had another go at pushing the issue of housing affordability in the Senate last week. This time I put up the following motion in what is known as a matter of urgency debate:
The need for a national affordable housing strategy to be developed, involving all levels of government and all political parties, to address the serious and ongoing crisis in housing affordability.
The Coaltion speakers made a few sympathetic noises about the importance of the issue, but they still voted against the motion.
It doesn’t overly worry me whether my motions get agreed to or not, but I am getting very frustrated at the lack of government interest at a national level in taking any extra action to address this growing problem. It has been a bad situation in many parts of the country for some years, but it is undoubtedly getting worse.
In my speech to the Senate, I referred to a recent Tim Colebatch piece in The Age which noted a report from the Housing Industry Association and the Commonwealth Bank showing that housing is now more unaffordable than at any time in the 23 years this has been measured, and also that
for the first time, the average Australian household can no longer afford to buy the average Australian home. With the median first home costing $376,000 in the December quarter, they say, buyers need a gross household income of $93,300 to adequately cover the mortgage bill of $2332 a month (or roughly $28,000 a year). But average household income, they estimate, is just $91,300.
The National Affordable Housing Summit has had a few goes over recent years at prodding for more action on this issue at national level. A couple of weeks ago, they had another shot, proposing a “national affordable rental incentive scheme to boost the supply of affordable rental housing by at 15 000 homes a year“.
Just last week, another group appeared – Australians for Affordable Housing. They put forward a range of measures, which included a national affordable rental incentive scheme along with a range of other measures they suggested as part of a national affordable housing agreement. This included things like increased investment in public and community housing, reform of federal tax incentives to encourage private sector investment in affordable housing and use of planning systems to generate affordable housing.
As an example of the response from government Senators, Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield listed the government’s record of better employment prospects, higher wages and lower interest rates, plus ‘reforming’ industrial relations laws, cutting income tax and substantially reduced government debt levels. Thus, he said, “the Commonwealth has done what is within its capacity to put Australians in a good position to afford a home.”
There is fair cause to blame the states for some of the current situation, but if that plus steady as she goes or more of the same is all the federal government thinks it can do in response to this crisis, it suggests to me they have just run out of ideas.
Labor Senator Gavin Marshall said this as part of his party’s contribution:
Labor have repeatedly said that, while there is no simple answer to housing stress, there are a number of things that could and should be done that would ease the crisis. We have committed to assessing all constructive ideas for tackling the lack of affordable housing, and we will start by negotiating a national affordable housing agreement amongst the three tiers of government. We have also committed to looking at shared equity models involving the federal government. We will look at protecting consumers from predatory lenders and we will actively seek ways to leverage private investment in low-income housing.