Australia can learn from the Canadians and Kiwis in relation to housing.
Like Australia, the federal governments of both countries, have for decades accepted little responsibility for social and affordable housing policy or supply. They’ve left it with state and provincial governments.
The Canadian government has broken from this tradition with the release of a national housing strategy called A Place to Call Home. The Canadians have acknowledged market forces alone will not solve a housing crisis. They’ve recognised that meeting housing need for lower income families requires federal intervention and, most critically, federal subsidy.
Canada’s 10-year strategy will cost $40 billion, but the plan includes building 100,000 dwellings, repairing 300,00 dwellings and extending a housing benefit to 300,000 families. Australia’s housing crisis is arguably worse than Canada’s, yet Australia still does not have a national housing plan, targets, monitoring agency or a minister dedicated to this serious issue. Calls for a national housing strategy have generally been met with the reply that housing is a state responsibility or with ad hoc initiatives.
As a signatory to the 1948 Convention on Human Rights and, more recently, Agenda 2030 and the United Nations New Urban Agenda, the Australian Government will rightly come under more national and international pressure to deliver the human right to adequate housing to its citizens.
Like Canada, Australia’s major population centres routinely feature in international lists of least affordable housing markets. The 2018 Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, released this week, ranks Australia as having one of the most expensive housing markets in the world.
Younger generations are increasingly locked out of home ownership. Both countries have failed to maintain social housing supply at levels commensurate with population growth after an initial post WWII commitment to social housing. The consequence has been similar patterns of housing stress, insufficient social and affordable housing to meet demand, and rising levels of homelessness. There are 60,000 people waiting for social housing in NSW and about 6000 in the Hunter.
The fundamental difference between Canada and Australia now is action by the federal government.
Canada is not the only comparable country taking bold action on housing. The New Zealand government has announced major reforms to the housing sector including constructing 100,000 new affordable dwellings under the auspices of a new Housing Commission and removing negative gearing tax breaks for property investors.
Back in Australia, a coalition of housing and homelessness peak bodies has launched a national campaign Everybody’s Home, calling on the federal government to implement similar measures to those underway in Canada and New Zealand.
Among other things, Everybody’s Home is seeking 500,000 new social and affordable housing dwellings over 10 years, a review of current tax arrangements to promote home ownership opportunities for first home buyers and a review of Commonwealth Rent Assistance and other benefits to ensure incomes support rental affordability.
There are signs the Australian Government is starting to focus on housing. It will guarantee loans made under a new Bond Aggregation model to help not-for-profit community housing providers raise money to build housing at lower rates. Last year’s Budget measures that provide tax advantages to first home buyers and downsizing households are also welcome.
Housing is fundamental to health and the ability to contribute to society. I hope that the Canadian and New Zealand examples will encourage progress towards a coordinated and national housing strategy that is critical if we are to meets a basic need of every Australian.