Australia is hurtling towards a housing affordability catastrophe but the coming federal election and pandemic economic recovery policy with a strong focus on residential construction could be a game-changer.
Affordable and social housing stock levels have flatlined over the past few decades, and now rapid and massive house price growth and residential vacancies plunging below 1 per cent in capital cities and regional centres are having a profound impact on where people live.
“We’ve had 20 to 30 years of more or less neglect of the social and affordable housing space and blurred lines of responsibility,” Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute executive director Dr Michael Fotheringham said.
“It certainly hasn’t had the scale and sophistication of investment that’s been needed and as a result what we don’t have in this country is enough of either of them.”
It has been estimated that Australia will need more than 720,000 new social housing dwellings during the next two decades.
“The truth of it is, we are not on track to meet that level of need, and we need to ramp up development of social and affordable housing really significantly,” he said.
“But what we’re seeing at a state-by-state level now is really significant and, if that can be maintained for more than a couple of years, it’s going to make a huge difference.”
Speaking at The Urban Developer Affordable and Social Housing vSummit, Fotheringham detailed a multi-billion-dollar list of state government programs—the level of which has not been seen since the construction initiatives in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
“If the federal election does lead to commonwealth engagement in the issue in a really substantive way, in the same sort of way we’re seeing from Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and ACT, it’ll be a game-changer,” he said.
Ambitious programs already have been outlined by Labor and the Greens, including plans to build a million homes in 20 years.
“Construction of social and affordable housing has been a key theme of the pandemic recovery, featuring strongly in the budgets particularly of the state’s hardest hit by Covid—Victoria, NSW and Queensland,” Fotheringham said.
“Just throwing around numbers like a billion dollars is probably not where community housing was at only a couple of years ago so it’s really pleasing to see genuine large scale investment into the issue.
“The main approach we’re seeing in almost every state is a partnership approach between government and community and industry ... and so I think the opportunity will continue to flow over the next couple of years at least.”
Fotheringham noted that, importantly, there also had been “a growing recognition at a federal level that social and affordable housing were key parts of the infrastructure of our cities”.
The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation was “going gangbusters” with $2 billion channelled through its social bonds; and in its Australian Infrastructure Plan, released every five years, Infrastructure Australia included a social infrastructure chapter for the first time, in its 2021 edition.
Fotheringham said there was also a growing focus on indigenous housing in several states with the formation of specialised peak bodies with a connection to government
“That’s part of a trend across the country that’s worth keeping an eye on because it’s about increasing the capacity of indigenous housing to work at scale...so I think there’s a lot of opportunities to come in that space.”