It’s great to see that housing affordability is shaping up as a centrepiece of the upcoming Federal budget. While it is highly unlikely that there will be changes around negative gearing and capital gains tax which are the areas that would make the most difference, it is still encouraging to see that the Federal Government has realised that they do have some levers to improve housing affordability across the country.
We know that housing affordability is a shared responsibility, and will not be solved by federal action alone. As such, the upcoming Territory budget provides a real opportunity to focus on local measures that will make housing more affordable in Canberra.
Contrary to many people’s understanding, we have a significant housing affordability issue in the ACT. Our high average incomes mask the reality that access to safe and affordable housing is becoming increasingly difficult for many of our residents – whether people are looking to buy or rent. In addition to the ACT having the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia, we have very low vacancy rates in the private rental market. We have long waiting lists for public housing and a low proportion of affordable housing options. As is the case in many capital cities, we are seeing housing values rising rapidly which is increasingly squeezing first home buyers out of the market.
Housing affordability is an area where consensus is building around what could make a difference. Last year we saw an unlikely alliance between ACT property industry, business, community groups, unions and professional groups where they released a joint statement that called for action. They called for a single Minister to be responsible for both planning and housing, for the Government to develop a territory-wide housing strategy, work to update the ACT Affordable Housing Strategy and for improvements to be made around the accountability of public agencies who are responsible for affordable housing targets. A number of jurisdictions are getting serious about tackling the issue and new ideas are emerging – such as the idea of a ‘vacancy tax’ that was recently raised by ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur and is currently being investigated as a means to discourage properties staying empty.
Locally there have been some good initiatives introduced. A standout is the ‘land rent scheme’ which reduces the costs of homeownership by enabling lessees to rent land from the Government at a discounted rate and meaning that a loan is only required for the value of the actual home. However, there is much to do to respond to this issue systemically and this budget provides the perfect opportunity to commit to strong local action.
There are positive signs that this may occur. Housing issues are heavily referenced in the ACT Parliamentary Agreement and so we should see some of these proposals implemented in this year’s Territory budget. Let’s hope we see a real commitment to a renewed Housing Affordability Strategy – something that has been languishing in recent times. The election saw commitments made to bring a number of innovative models to Canberra which could work to increase affordability and reduce homelessness. These include MyHome, which provides housing and support for people with mental illness, another Common Ground development which provides housing and support for people facing homelessness, HomeGround, a not-for-profit real estate agent and the Nightingale model which aims to cap development profits and involve purchasers in the design of developments. This budget is the time to provide the funds for these initiatives to get off the ground. This budget also provides the opportunity for increased investment into community housing, ongoing public housing renewal and the bolstering of support for homelessness support services that continue to face funding uncertainty.
We will never have a better chance to make a difference in ensuring that all of us have a place we call home and somewhere safe to lay our heads each night. Let’s hope we make the most of this opportunity.
What do you think are the initiatives that will make the most difference in making housing more affordable in the ACT?
Rebecca is a board member of Community Housing Canberra, an affordable housing company. She is also an active member of the ACT Greens and ran as a candidate in last year’s Territory election.