7 April 2024

ACT Greens' housing plan may be overly ambitious but ideas are worth exploring

| Ian Bushnell
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Shane Rattenbury, Sam Nugent, Rebecca Vassarotti

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury, Brindabella candidate Sam Nugent and deputy leader Rebecca Vassarotti: the Greens’ ambitious housing plan deserves a closer look. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

It’s pretty easy to take potshots at the ACT Greens for having pie-in-the-sky policies, such as setting up a government agency to build 10,000 new public homes over 10 years.

Throw in the $5 billion to $9 billion or so that it may cost and it’s all over, red rover.

In an election year, both Labor and the Liberals have common cause in limiting the Greens’ influence and the number of seats they might take come October, so they were both quick to attack the Greens’ plan for being unachievable and too costly.

Labor says they should know better and the Libs call them dangerous.

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However, all the Greens are proposing is what state and territory governments used to do before the great retreat from public housing and what many overseas jurisdictions still do.

It’s an attempt to address the fact that the current housing market has failed to meet the needs of the increasing number of people who are locked out of buying property, are chewing through their wages renting a property, or find themselves living in their cars, couch-surfing, or sitting for years on a list for a public house that doesn’t exist.

Yes, there are all kinds of questions around the cost, the workforce and land required, and how it would fit with the private sector and the Albanese Government’s National Housing Accord.

And the chances of the Greens being in a position to implement such a policy are remote.

However, as ACTCOSS CEO Devin Bowles says, business as usual is not an option if one is serious about fixing the housing crisis.

Any notion that this is something the private sector alone can build ourselves out of is delusional. With wages now so out of step with rents and property prices, only a restored government housing sector can prevent a crash in living standards for people on fixed incomes, low and even middle-income workers.

It doesn’t matter how many homes are built if people can’t afford to live in them.

ACT Labor’s intention to significantly boost the role of community housing providers, also a Liberal policy, will provide more below-market rent dwellings, but will it be enough?

So look at the Greens’ ambitious proposal as a bundle of ideas to be considered and an ambit claim.

Would a government developer with its own workforce, no need for tenders or profit margin, hasten builds and keep costs down?

They have proposed using prefabrication, something the industry is taking seriously to rein in the soaring cost of construction.

The Greens argue that there should be enough transitional properties available to offer the often temporary shelter that people in between jobs need to stay on their feet.

But this also means giving Housing ACT more flexibility in how it manages its portfolio so tenants do not expect to have a government home or the same home for life.

The Greens also want infill policy of 80 per cent (too much), more development rights in residential zoned land (maybe), and for the Suburban Land Agency to halve the price of land it sells to Housing ACT (why not?)

They also would expect the federal government to contribute to the program.

READ ALSO Pocock says federal and ACT Labor governments have achieved little for Canberra voters

Whether every idea is worthy or not is beside the point.

We need a shift in thinking because simply sticking to what we have been doing will only mean more of the same or worse.

Every social service and social housing lobby in the country is calling for the government to step into the yawning gap in the market that the private sector has not filled.

When it comes to budgets, it’s about choices. Billions are being spent on the inland rail boondoggle and billions more will be poured into the AUKUS submarine project despite increasing doubts about its viability, strategic purpose or eventual effectiveness.

Then there are the billions foregone in the generous tax concessions that many economists argue are at the root of Australia’s housing malaise.

Yet, when it comes to the basic right of shelter, it’s all too hard. A little more ambition would be welcome.

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William Newby8:17 pm 06 May 24

There once was a time that the Greens stood for matters environmental, I don’t recognise this party or any of their hare brained ideas anymore.
Housing every single person in the ACT is NOT the function of local government.

How about this for an idea? If you cannot afford to live in a place, go find one where you can.

Martin Keast9:13 am 13 Apr 24

housing is not the role of government. Reducing the red tape and compliance costs of building housing definitely is something they should be doing. releasing land at a faster rate would also help reduce the cost of new housing. Once again the Greens show they have no idea how an actual economy works.

Incidental Tourist3:57 pm 09 Apr 24

Housing market is indeed broken. Broken by populist policies, excessive tax and red tape to finance bankrupt communist housing utopia. Canberra housing market worked far better when Greens MLAs rented and bought their first homes before they become MLAs. Housing market was like a well working car in hands of drunk drivers who “fixed” it by overloading it with tax, then reshaped its body with tenancy legislation hammer, dropping regulation spanners and various red tapes in its engine, throwing out extra passenger seats with 120 m2 building limit, wrecking out and selling parts (land and public houses) for profit, overfilling its tank with “infill policies”, rewiring electric on “outcome based planning approach” and then blaming the manufacturer as it can’t drive. Oh well the car isn’t working despite our relentless works to improve it. So much effort and such a bad car! How about we just buy another toy with $5-9 billions at your expense folks? Give or take a billion or two, why count public money when we see another mirage in the horizon? – Yep, it’s great idea worth exploring.

GrumpyGrandpa2:55 pm 09 Apr 24

Rather than The Greens creating ideologically driven housing solutions, just maybe if the Albanese government reduced our record immigration numbers, we’d have less demand on our housing stocks?

Maybe if the local ALP/Greens reduced things like Land Tax and other costs that flow through into the cost of housing, we need less ideological solutions?

Where and how do you suggest we cut our migrant numbers Grumpy? Migrant numbers include Australian citizen arrivals, temporary visa holders, international students, holiday makers, temporary skilled migrants and NZ citizens who stay in Australia 12 months or more over a 16-month period. In 2022/23 there were 737,000 migrant arrivals, an increase of 73% and surpassing those recorded pre-pandemic due to the lifting of travel bans. Temporary visa holders made up the largest number of arrivals (75%) with the largest intake in this group being International students (42%).

“ACT Greens’ housing plan may be overly ambitious…”

Ian, I believe the term you are looking for there is delusional.

Not ambitious enough but far better than the do nothing major parties bending over backwards for vested interests, and donors.

The state governments have undoubted power to fix rents and to fix the price of land. They decide how land shall be used and subdivided. They can themselves acquire, resume and sub-divide land or set up local government bodies to do so. A person purchasing a house from the War Service Homes Division of the Housing Commission saves £500 on the cost of the land alone. This very clearly indicates the advantage which can be gained from government acquiring and subdividing land instead of allowing private persons to exploit such subdivisions. (Gough Whitlam, May 1958)

HiddenDragon8:12 pm 08 Apr 24

The best thing that the Greens, locally and nationally, could do to begin dealing with the housing shortage would be to rediscover their sadly long-abandoned belief in an environmentally sustainable population figure for Australia – which was put in the mid-teens (i.e. about 10m. less than we now have) when that issue was last regarded as a politically correct subject for discussion.

Without that, their bleating and hand-wringing on housing is simply not plausible, particularly when the better-placed Greens are safely tucked away in heritage-listed areas while they are telling everyone else that their streets and suburbs have to be infilled, and in some cases greatly densified, to make room for an over-the-top rate of immigration-driven population growth.

The other thing the Greens could do would be to tell us much more about their ideas to find savings (mentioned in Claire Fenwicke’s 5 April article on this subject) to help meet the costs of an ambitious increase in public housing effort. The Greens are responsible for more than their fair share of wasteful, tokenistic ACT government spending – if they really are serious about public housing, they should be prepared to sacrifice most of that spending to help the homeless and vulnerable.

Be nice if Mr Bushnell could use his investigative journalism skills to question the Greens why they sold off all those public housing sites to use the asset recycling money to build light rail stage 1 instead of replacement public housing.

Maybe he could also investigate why so much ACT public housing sites were sold off to high rise property developers.

If it’s really about housing Canberra’s disadvantaged people, maybe he should be questioning why the Greens reduced the number of public housing dwellings. It’s a bit hard for them to be arguing for more housing theoretically when they’ve taken away public houses.

devils_advocate4:40 pm 08 Apr 24

I would like to second the notion that these questions be put to the Greens party in some public forum.

A Green: School, university, political staffer, politician. Somewhere in there was a part time job, not paid for by the taxpayer, or not, if you count extinction rebellion as employment. Doyens of the business world, perfectly suited to the intricate financial acumen required to make a complex program work.

devils_advocate11:32 am 08 Apr 24


Greens: let’s raise costs for Landlords, freeze rents (!), retrospectively impose punitive energy efficiency standards on existing rentals, impose eviction moratoriums, create prohibitive environmental requirements for new builds, remove key ownership rights for landlords, and actively discourage infill projects with unnecessary red tape and taxes

Also Greens: why is nobody building any houses?

It’s a ridiculous idea because it cannot remotely be achieved.

Regulation over the last few decades has greatly increased to heavily protect things like environmental and heritage whilst at the same time demanding building quality be increased.

Land availability and workforce constraints are huge. How can they fit the level of public housing into those constraints?

How could it possibly fit into other town planning limitations for a well designed, socially functioning city?

Costs have also massively increased in almost every area. Even if the free land and building industry capacity could be found to develop the amount of public housing they are talking about, it would cost far too much money when the ACT budget is also extremely constrained. The amount of required subsidy is enormous.

And finally most importantly, large parts of the problem with housing affordability sit at the Federal level around immigration, taxation settings etc. The local Greens gave almost zero control over this.

This is typical Greens in an election year, proposing wild policies that can never be implemented.

It’s good to be thinking about the issues, but solutions need to have some level of basis in reality.

Ian, the 1970s called, a government developer and workforce are not the solution you are looking for.

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