Australia needs much more public and community housing

Contributed by Joe Montero

As Australia’s cost of living crisis builds, there is one obvious key component to it besides stagnant wages and miserable social security payments. This is the housing affordability crisis. Mortgage repayments and rents are far too high, and this is growing and entrenching poverty. There is an impact on the quality of life for everyone.

The excessive cost of housing imposes a price on the economy, namely that households must reduce spending on other needs. No wonder consumption is also stagnant. This is bad for business, and especially small business.

Critics have said and written volumes on the harm created by negative gearing, capital gains write off allowances, and the fact that these have led to corporate controlled large scale housing ownership and manipulation of prices. Many have pointed to the need to start making these causes history. They are right. Without doing this in a planned way over a few stages, the only thing that will bring down prices is a housing bubble crash.

A big part of the problem is that housing is seen as commodity for someone to make money out of. It should be regarded as a basic human right. The market does not respect this. Government and the public can though.

Decent and affordable housing should be regarded as a basic human right

Add that the housing construction industry in now in the doldrums. Fewer new projects means that the market is becoming even less able to meet the need.

This means setting priorities. Ensuring that everyone has a decent home to live in under law must top the list. This means the existence of sufficient affordable housing. Since the market will not provide this, the only solution is to establish how many homes are needed and to commit sufficient resources to meet the demand.

The Australian government has just confirmed that it will establish a National Housing Supply and Affordability Council. This was announced by the minister for housing and homelessness Julie Colins. She said this is part of work towards developing a national housing plan.

A body collecting data and talking about options is one thing. Going about making a difference in practice is another. Australia has known for years that it costs too much to put a roof over one’s head. The problem is that little has been done over the years to remedy this. Data on housing costs, construction, number on people on public housing lists, and the extent of homelessness has been a round for a long time. Centralising this data and making it more transparent is important.

This is not to say that a national housing plan is not needed. On the contrary. Such a plan is critically important. But it will count for little without a commitment to a massive increase in the supply of public housing and what is now being called social housing. Community housing is a better term.

Both public and community housing are important. Public housing provides homes for those who are most vulnerable. Community housing means housing under the control of communities to meet their shared needs. Both provide far more affordable housing.

The leading edge of community housing in Australia is cooperative housing. This brings the advantages of extending community control through management by the members and extending links with the wider local community.

Housing is about communities as well as bricks and mortar. Affordable housing means more vibrant communities.

Alternatives to private home ownership or market rent must be available to all. If this is made a reality, it will pull down market prices.

Holders of larger scale property portfolios will not like this. But should greed be allowed to crush the public need?

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