29 October 2018

$100m for public housing, 15 per cent of land releases to be set aside for affordable homes

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr launches the Housing Strategy. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The ACT Government will spend $100 million on public housing over five years and set aside 15 per cent of all Government land releases for public, community and affordable housing as part its long-awaited Housing Strategy announced today (29 October).

The Government said the $100 million would deliver at least 200 new homes and the renewal of a further 1000 homes. “This new investment will ensure we can keep growing Canberra’s public housing stock to meet demand as our city grows,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Housing Minister Yvette Berry said.

It will also identify and produce publicly available and measurable targets for the growth and renewal of public housing.

They said the land release target would include both infill development in urban areas and new suburbs, providing 630 extra homes a year from 2019-20, or about 2550 over four years.

The new target will replace the previous policy of releasing affordable home purchase sites in greenfield areas only, which delivered about 400 dwellings a year under the Affordable Housing Action Plan, and supports the Government policy of salt and peppering public and social housing across the ACT.

“These targets will be met within a broader plan to maintain a sufficient supply of new land to meet future housing demand. Over the next four years, the Government plans to release sites for 17,000 new homes in Canberra,” Mr Barr and Ms Berry said.

According to the Budget papers, of those 17,000 homes, 62 per cent will be units, 31 per cent will be houses (detached) and 7 per cent will be semi detached.

In community housing, the Government said it would provide 151 extra rental dwellings across different sites, to be tenanted and managed to achieve a strong social mix.

Ms Berry said that for example a 66-unit public housing project under construction at Kaleen would now be half public and half community housing.

“It’s about making sure that we have a good mix of housing that meets the diverse needs of everybody in our community,” she said.

The Government will also set an annual community housing target to provide additional affordable rental properties managed by registered community housing providers, as part of the 15 per cent land release commitment.

Land for community housing will be made cheaper through restrictions on Crown leases, land rent options or sale at a fixed percentage of market rate, and the Government will facilitate a project to develop community rental housing on under-utilised leased community facility land.

The Government will also investigate options such as land tax concessions on properties rented at 75 per cent of market rate and managed by community housing providers, financial incentives to encourage affordable rental housing on privately owned land such as lease variation charge remissions, or planning controls, and releasing sites for affordable rentals under a build-to-rent model.

Mr Barr said the Government needed to do more work on these to ensure they were properly structured and targeted. But he said for example that work on the land tax concession proposal would be completed in a matter of weeks not months.

He said the Government could not support an Opposition bill on this measure because “you could drive a truck though the exemption regime”.

While there are no new specific proposals to increase temporary crisis accommodation, as called for by groups such as Safe Shelter, the strategy focuses on early intervention, improving homelessness services and getting people out of crisis accommodation into more permanent housing.

The Minister said the Budget had already allocated funds for crisis accommodation and the aim was to prioritise those in need such as the young, women, people with a disability and Indigenous people.

As announced last week, the strategy outlines new and stronger protections to guard against unfair rent increases and give tenants more rights to make a property their home.

To make home purchase more affordable, the Government will investigate alternative financing arrangements such as shared equity, rent to buy and expanding the land rent scheme, again ensuring that they are designed in way to achieve the strategies’ objectives.

Mr Barr also took a stick to federal housing and tax policies saying federal Labor’s planned changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements would enhance the effectiveness of the strategy, although he expected a massive scare campaign.

“So if we have all levers of policy and and all governments working on one direction, by that I mean meaningful change of negative gearing and capital gains tax that shift the emphasis in terms of housing policy away from housing as an investment class and housing as a human right then we will see significant change in Australia,” he said.

“So much of this debate has been focused around improving housing affordability allegedly without making houses cheaper. Tell me how you improve housing affordability without making houses cheaper.”

The strategy is available at www.act.gov.au/homes-housing

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Mike of Canberra10:39 pm 29 Oct 18

Barr’s comment at the end is intriguing. Is he betraying the hardline socialist bent that many of us believe lies not far below the surface with him by effectively declaring that “property ownership is theft”. This can be the only way to interpret a comment that implies that property must somehow operate completely outside the market and only ever become cheaper. If this is the case, he will have a substantially lower value base on which to impose his punitive rates and to raise the excessive revenue on which he so obviously relies to achieve budget balance.

As for targets for social and community housing and the spread of such housing across the territory, surely the aim for this is to achieve the best possible bang for the government’s buck wherever this housing is located. However, going hand in glove with the government’s strategies of encouraging large scale up market apartment developments, housing in the inner areas is becoming so expensive that it effectively excludes all but the highest income earners. This effectively means that, if the government is to expand its public housing estate in such areas, it will be doing so on very expensive land, with a high rateable value, all to establish housing with very little financial return to the government and community. Unless the government has unlimited funds available to it, does this imply that, in fact, the real thrust of its policies will be to locate the bulk of any expansion in public housing capacity, either new or renovated, in cheaper areas where it will get the maximum bang for its buck?

Word limits prevent me going further, but these are just two points that illustrate just how confused the government’s policies seem to be, based on the information released today.

I read his comments as meaning he doesn’t think the government should be subsidising peoples investment properties and that a home should be for the owner to live in or fund itself.

How that equates to theft is beyond me, but he did say he expected a big scare campaign. And worlds like theft looks like he is right.

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