4 February 2023

New housing czar appointed to take on ACT affordability crisis

| Ian Bushnell
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Deputy Under Treasurer Stephen Miners will lead the new Office of the Coordinator-General for Housing. Photo: LinkedIn.

The ACT has a new housing czar based in the Chief Minister’s own Directorate, who will take charge of policy and project delivery across the government.

The new Office of the Coordinator-General for Housing within the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate will bring all policy initiatives and activities under one roof in a bid to meet the growing Territory’s housing needs, with an emphasis on boosting the number of affordable homes and easing the rental crisis.

Led by Deputy Under Treasurer Stephen Miners, the new Office comes after long-running criticism of the government’s housing policies from industry, the community sector and the Opposition as the Territory endures the highest rents in the country in an extremely tight market and a lack of affordable homes for sale.

One of its first actions will be to oversee the re-establishment of the Rent Relief Fund, which will provide targeted, short-term support for low-income households in the private rental market that are experiencing rental stress or severe financial hardship.

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The Fund will be available until 30 June 2024 and provide grants for up to four weeks’ rent, capped at $2500. Approved applicants will also be offered support services to help them manage their tenancies over the long term.

The new Office will also work with the Albanese Government as it rolls out the first initiatives of the Housing Accord, which aims to deliver a million well-located homes across Australia in collaboration with all levels of government, institutional investors and the construction sector.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the Housing Accord represented the first opportunity in a decade to align housing policy settings across all levels of government.

“It will also require a significant amount of policy and implementation work,” he said.

“The establishment of the Office will coordinate efforts centrally within the ACT Government and in our engagement with the Commonwealth Government to get on with improving housing affordability, access and choice.”

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The Office will both oversee the delivery of major projects and coordinate activities across the ACT Government.

Its brief is to deliver policy, legislative, procurement and planning reforms that increase housing access, affordability and choice.

The Office will take charge of the Indicative Land Release Program and deliver more stamp duty cuts for owner-occupiers as part of the tax reform program.

Andrew Barr, MLA.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr: “Population growth will continue in the coming decade and housing demand will grow.” Photo: Michelle Kroll.

It also will work to help more first homeowners into the market with improved access to mortgage finance and better loan serviceability.

In the rental space, the Office will manage direct procurement and/or market incentives for Build-to-Rent and affordable housing, as well as increased access to secure, affordable rental options.

The Office also aims to create more housing options for low-income Canberrans, including a bigger role for the community housing sector and continuing the public housing renewal program through Housing ACT.

Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr said the new Office was in response to the ACT’s booming population growth and the accompanying increased demand for housing, which required a whole-of-government approach.

“We have had the fastest growing population of any jurisdiction over the last 10 years, growing from 370,000 to around 460,000,” he said.

“Population growth will continue in the coming decade and housing demand will grow.”

Mr Barr said that over the next five years, the government would release more land, undertake the biggest growth and renewal of public housing stock since self-government, and upcoming reforms to the ACT’s Territory Plan would support more housing opportunities for more Canberrans over the next decade.

Community housing would play a greater role and providers already benefited from existing tax concessions regarding Build-to-Rent developments and the government had worked extensively with Community Housing Canberra to refinance its balance sheet so it could grow its affordable rental housing stock.

“We will continue to work closely with the sector with further policy to be implemented, particularly given the Commonwealth establishment of the Housing Australia Future Fund (subject to legislation),” Mr Barr said.

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While increasing rental supply was the government’s highest priority, the Office would also review existing Territory schemes for first-home buyers, Mr Barr said.

The housing industry will be pleased to hear the government intends to increase the rate of land being released for new housing.

Mr Barr said the government was continually releasing more land and had extended the Indicative Land Release Program to five years.

“The district planning strategies – currently subject to consultation – will provide further information regarding proposed, possible and potential key sites and areas,” he said.

But this would not mean a dramatic increase in urban infill development or apartments.

“The government’s objective is gentle urbanism,” he said. “A steady and orderly process, with an expanded focus on new medium density dwellings such as townhouses, terraces, villas, duplexes and dual occupancies.”

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Canberra Liberals Leader and Housing Affordability and Choice spokesperson Elizabeth Lee said Mr Barr had lost confidence in his ministers to address the housing crisis.

“The fact that this new position will be within the Chief Minister’s own Directorate is a clear indication he has lost confidence in both housing ministers and is making sure he takes control over what is happening. If he does not trust his ministers, he should tell them to go,” Ms Lee said.

She said the ACT’s housing issues had been exacerbated by Labor-Greens government decisions but welcomed the new Office’s goals.

“The priorities that have been outlined for this new position are the exact priorities that the Canberra Liberals have been calling for,” Ms Lee said.

“My focus is on ensuring Canberrans have genuine choice when it comes to housing and that a local government can exercise whatever levers within our control to do what we can to ensure that every Canberran has the opportunity to live in their own home,” Ms Lee said.

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devils_advocate2:35 pm 07 Feb 23

Any distortions that have existed in the long run to advantage investors exist at the federal level and therefore beyond the reach of this role.

Housing affordability at the state/territory level is impacted by supply (lack thereof) and deadweight costs. Is it likely that this role will upend the deliberate steps taken by the ACT government to restrict supply, drive up prices for land and throttle the supply of development? I remain skeptical.

The ACT government should implement a DHA housing model where the houses are owned by private investors but leased to the government. The rent to the investor is based on market rates and the government can subsidise the tenant based on their financial situation. DHA leases can be up to 18 yrs but this could be adjusted if need be. The investor also pays property management fees while the government carries out minor maintenance to keep the property in good condition. This would be a win win if done right. It could be applied to existing properties or new builds.

Megan van der Velde10:25 pm 05 Feb 23

Wow. Someone who owns (owned) 4 properties not happy….gosh….wish I could have the opportunity to do this. Meanwhile back in divorce land, just struggling to pay off one with a good full time job. Cmon people. We all just want somewhere we can live, be safe and afford!

1) change the wording of rz1 zoning to allow for duplexes, triplexes and townhouses
2) higher density around rapid bus stops and corridors
3) institute an urban growth boundary
4) 30% to 1/3 of new housing should be public

The Government needs to understand that its policies have caused the sky high rents. I owned 4 investment properties and it was a good investment until they needed to pay for the Tram. I had an apartment which rates were calculated on the normal way but split by each property, ie each floor. In a single move I had an increase from $80 roughly a quarter to $360 per quarter. That’s an increase of 300%. As an investor and not a benevolent person providing cheap housing, I had to increase the rent to cover my losses. This was done by most investors I would imagine.

The further increases in Rates and Land Tax to pay for the tram on all my investment properties meant annual rent increases to recoup what I could get.

I’ve sold the lot now when the values went sky high during Covid. They are no longer a good long term investment. Government fees make investing in housing in Canberra a poor choice.

The ACT Government has caused the shortage of Landlords and the high rent.

Clever Interrobang8:21 pm 05 Feb 23

That’s barely an increase of just over $20 per week, if that’s all it takes to ruin your investment you probably couldn’t afford it to begin with

Agree with you, Elf. It’s good you sold up as things are going to get much worse for landlords with the new ‘energy’ laws – that will only apply to rental properties in the ACT. More stupid laws introduced by the ACT govt that will inevitably lead to even more landlords being forced to sell. Watch rental prices in the ACT go up even higher…

devils_advocate3:33 pm 06 Feb 23

@clever interrobang

“That’s barely an increase of just over $20 per week, if that’s all it takes to ruin your investment you probably couldn’t afford it to begin with.”

A yes a mere pittance.

But with the market “at risk of exploding again”, surely now is the time for investors to buy, buy, buy.

Surely they wouldn’t want to look back with regret missing the dip of early 2023 as the buying opportunity it is?

Investors should buy property, just not in the ACT. Anyone who buys an investment property in the ACT is a masochist (person who enjoys pain).

1. Change many ACT Housing policies, and limit use of public housing per person to a period to 5 years – stop making public housing ‘for life’. Exceptions can apply to those with severe disabilities and the elderly.
2. Public housing should only be for people on very low incomes and be given to the most needy in the community (chronic disabilities, old age etc.). There are people living in ACT public housing who are on middle-high wages. These people can move out of public housing (which frees it up for someone who is actually disadvantaged), and they can enter the private rental market. Get rid of the stupid ACT ‘housing for life’ idea (currently the ACT government says once you enter public housing you can stay for life) as this policy doesn’t work, and it actually disadvantages many others in the community who are missing out.
3. Housing ACT could give ‘vouchers’ to help lower income people with the costs of private housing. These vouchers should be conditional on the person meeting strict criteria (e.g. actively looking for work, doing some sort of community service in exchange for the voucher) and be limited to a short period of time. This gives people an opportunity to change their circumstances. If landlords chose to rent to someone who is on a ‘voucher’ , the landlords don’t pay any land tax (so the rent amount is still the same, but the ACT govt makes a contribution to help those on lower incomes).

This is more about looking like doing something than actually achieving anything meaningful.

Let’s just hope we can get someone in this role with a clear understanding of the situation who isn’t yet another mouthpiece for the government or follower of false narratives.

Canberra jumping to the highest rents in the country surely suggests some of the ACT governments housing and property policies haven’t worked as anticipated.

HiddenDragon7:07 pm 04 Feb 23

A “czar” to deliver Potemkin village solutions for the London Circuit Soviet?

A seat shiner, and that’s about it

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