Building adequate government housing stock should be a priority

Contributed from Victoria

A report from Compas Housing Services has shown how many Australians there are, whose income is low enough to qualify for public or other forms of lower cost housing.

There are currently about 144,000 on the public housing list. If the others who qualify are added, the need would new affordable housing properties is 452,000l.

This amounts to 23 percent of all renting households.

Report author Martin Kennedy said the findings are “deeply concerning.”

Photo from the ABC: The Flemington public housing estate in Melbourne

If all those currently under severe housing stress because of high mortgages and rent but too high a household income to get on the waiting list were counted, the number would be much higher still.

Besides the steep rise in the cost of housing, this is an impact of the changing nature of work. A permanent full-time job is no longer the norm, as Australians are shunted into precarious work, whether they like it or not, and usually resulting in a major drop in income.

It means that many find themselves unemployed for a considerable period, and even if this is not the case, are likely to have less to spend on housing needs.

As this trend continues to make its impact, the number of households qualifying for the housing waiting list will keep on rising.

Despite the obvious need, governments around Australia are doing very little to help. Rather than increasing public housing stock, they are selling it off.

Eligibility for government funded housing has been tightened over the last 25 years. It means fewer people can apply, at the time when the need has been rising.  

Some programs that provide a little more money for social housing other than public housing have been promised. But this no where near enough to meet the already existing waiting list, yet alone the overall need.

Affordable housing is one of the most important needs faced by everyone. Without it, expenditure in other areas must be cut back in order to make ends meet, and this affects quality of life.

This also has an impact on the economy, through reduced participation, and socially, in connection with problems associated with rising poverty. It can be said that affordable housing is both a human right and necessary for a fair and stable society.

If this is the case, government has a responsibility to ensure that the need is met. But this responsibility is not being met.

The report suggests that a bigger stock of public and other forms of social housing can and should be provided.

As well as increasing the supply of social and affordable housing, the report recommended putting in stronger protections for private renters and helping displaced workers through more effective re-skilling and transition programs.

A range of possibilities have been put forward from various quarters

The building of new public stock should be set as a priority over less important government spending programs. By doing this net expenditure does not have to rise. Doing this will also provide a stimulus to the economy, providing jobs and more spending power on other needs, as the cost of housing comes down for benefiting households.

Requiring major private sector housing projects to provide a larger proportion for social housing is an additional approach that can be used.

Providing enough assistance to home buyers in the private market is another one. This would take down demand for an alternative.

Better protection through limiting the ability of landlords to increase rents would have the same effect.

Scrapping negative gearing in stages and reducing capital gains tax exemptions would help lower the cost of housing, with minimal disruption, and leave the government with more funds to use for increasing the housing stock.

Speculators and those with the means to take opportunity of government handouts are an important cause of pushing up the cost of housing.

Encouraging different forms of cooperative housing could be another contribution, which can be cost effective and provide social benefits.

Providing clusters on new and affordable housing creates an opportunity to build self-sustaining communities, and this is the best way to tackle social issues and provide better and safer neighborhoods.

It’s just a matter of priorities.

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