Will the Federal budget launch a new era in social and affordable housing?

Contributed by a social housing activist

News is that there may be a pitch for social housing in the coming budget.  Anyone involved in social housing is understandably keen to find out exactly what this means.  It is also of interest to campaigners for public housing.

However, comes from the United Kingdom, which has applied a program where the government applies government-backed cheap loans to private investors to build social housing.

By implication, the “bond aggregator,” will be a public-private partnership regime. Some states already have a track record of using public-private partnerships for the provision of public housing.  It has not worked in providing more housing stock.  The shortage has grown, as  part the public housing stock was turned over to the private housing market.

Public housing is mentioned because it is the largest part off social housing. Unfortunately, it is being left out in the cold in the present talk about social housing, is  limited to registered welfare agency managed housing and federations representing housing cooperatives.that are also registered.

Will the Morrison proposal be the same?  It all depends. If it involves existing public property, it will.  If it provides some new housing stock for social housing fair enough. But there is still major hurdle to get through.  Private developers will only become involved if they make a profit.  Most of this will come about by selling  what they build in the private market.  The incentive is to maximise this. There is also an incentive to maximise market value.The highest prices are in the localities where the best healed live. They tend to be less than keen in moving in among those they consider socially inferior.

Unless there is a specific rule that ensures a given percentage must be handed over to social housing, the net gain could be quite small.  Nothing said about this and if it not in place, the whole exercise will be no more than a cynical exercise to line the pockets of developers and property speculators.

One of the major and persistent problems facing social housing ( including public housing)  is the gap between the cost of maintaining he property and the lower than market rent paid by those who live in the properties. This is not being addressed.  It will only be resolved when government commits to providing sufficient funds for maintenance and upgrading. Failure will lead to creating a sub-standard stock of housing.  Providers social housing, face the prospect that costs beyond what they can cope with and could be forced to eventually offload stock into the market.

What about the housing cooperatives? What is going to happen to them?  Will they lose control over their properties? The maintenance-rent gap has been forcing them towards increasing reliance on government assistance. In doing so, they have had to compromise and this has involved some restrictions being placed on them. This is important because the purpose of a cooperative is self-management and community building. If these are taken away, a cooperative loses its reason for existence.

A piecemeal approach to housing affordability is going to be very weak at best.  In addition, focusing only on the very poorest in our society, as important as the needs of these people are, denies that the problem of housing affordability is a much more widespread problem that needs urgent attention. Failure to provide this attention makes it look like the major reason for Morrison’s announcement of more money for social housing more like a publicity stunt than anything else.


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