The housing affordability crisis is something all governments have to face up to, and last week’s decision to create a new central office to run housing policy and actions across government in the ACT probably should have happened sooner.
The Labor-Greens Government has taken a battering since the election as putting a roof over your head in this town continued to be a challenge or just downright impossible for many.
And not just from the Opposition, which has focused for years on a lack of land for standalone family homes and has the 70:30 housing mix favouring urban infill firmly in its sights.
The property industry and the community sector have regularly launched into the Government, the former over land supply and taxes and charges, and the latter being unimpressed by the public housing renewal program and a perceived squeezing out of community housing providers.
The Government’s usual response is to deflect the attacks by saying many issues such as Commonwealth tax policy are outside its control and spruiks relentlessly what it is doing, as if all the criticism will go away.
Well, less than two years out from the next election, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has decided just doing the same old thing is no longer an option, creating an Office of the Coordinator General for Housing within his own directorate.
Not only are the issues not going away, particularly for Canberra’s low to middle-income workers, but with the ACT’s population projected to hit half a million by the end of the decade, boosted by the resumption of migration, the situation will only get worse without more affordable homes.
The other piece in play is the Albanese Government’s Housing Accord, which aims to build a million more homes near work and transport over the next decade.
Having a central office that can work directly with the Commonwealth and secure the best deal for the ACT makes sense.
The ACT itself would have benefited from a more coordinated approach across government to implement its Housing Strategy, and which reflected the urgency of the problem.
It is a long list of areas the housing office will have charge of but Mr Barr says the main priority will be the rental market, firstly through a new rent relief fund, but the main game will be build-to-rent projects to ramp up stock.
These will need to be more than giant apartment precincts with amenities. If Mr Barr’s notion of gentle urbanism is to be believed, we will need to see the medium-density missing middle that is being promised delivered.
There remains a question around public housing. Will the renewal program deliver enough homes to really make a difference to the waiting list? The Government must be hoping that boosting rental supply overall will be enough to bring rents down and ease the pressure on public stock.
The Government appears to have shifted ground on land, with Mr Barr saying the rate of land release will increase in coming years after being accused of choking supply.
But will it be enough to satisfy the hunger of Canberra developers and builders, or the Liberals?
The Liberals may argue that most home buyers would prefer a standalone house, and that may be so, but the reality of the market is that after the last property upswing, that boat has sailed for many more Canberrans whose sights are now lowered to cheaper apartments, and the townhouses and villas of Mr Barr’s gentle urbanism.
That fits with the Government’s infill policy.
But leader Elizabeth Lee can take some credit for the Government dropping its business-as-usual approach.
The thing to watch will be whether the shake-up will deliver results and not just be a bureaucratic reshuffling.