The Guardian • Issue #2059 03-07-2023

The Housing Crisis

After decades of State and Federal neoliberal housing policies, Australia faces an exploding housing crisis.

The 26th June Anglicare report on the cost of living points to housing being a major factor, with average rents rising by more than 30 per cent over the past three years. 

Australian governments have taken the view that people should pay for their own accommodation and that the state is absolved of any responsibility to provide public housing for its citizens.

The alternative – the private sector – can never solve the crisis because it treats housing as a commodity, a source of profit, not a human right. The private sector cannot and never will house the community; only governments can potentially do this.

The current Federal government’s response is the Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) which is not actually a fund for housing at all. It is $10 billion invested in the stock market. The maximum the fund can disburse from its income, by law is $500 million a year.

NO GUARANTEE

There is no guarantee it will make that much money. Last year it would have lost almost four per cent and would have had to use part or all the profits from the next year to restore the fund.

The Albanese government has been boasting it will provide 30,000 social housing dwellings over the next five years. Even if it gets enough money from HAFF to achieve this – which is doubtful – it is still only a drop in the ocean.

The Federal government is mainly concerned with home ownership and private rental and, despite the PM’s much vaunted childhood experience, showers Community Housing Providers (CHPs) with money. In the May budget Commonwealth rental assistance went up – money that is taken by the CHPs, not given to residents of social housing tenants to help them financially. CHPs also got direct grants to continue their work, including large salaries for their CEOs.

To get this “signature policy” through Parliament, the ALP has been dragged kicking and screaming to invest $2 billion immediately into public housing for two years.

PM Albanese reportedly said that 100 per cent of this money will go towards public housing and must remain in government hands. The funds would go to each State on a per capita basis, with each Territory getting a guaranteed $50 million. If this happens, it will be a step forward – but still not enough to solve the housing crisis.

NSW IMPROVEMENTS

The new NSW ALP government has begun to grapple with housing issues in a better way than the previous LNP administration.

It is fulfilling its promise to end the privatisation of public housing stock continued by the previous LNP after the Keneally ALP started the cannibalisation of public housing in 2009.

Estates that were due for the chop have now been granted reprieves, including the Franklyn Street complex in Glebe where over 100 tenants have been enduring the threat of eviction for several years. Also saved in Glebe are 30 individual houses which will now be refurbished and put to use for low-income tenants.

These are great victories for community action which has continued for over a decade. People are learning that persistence and resistance works.

NO REAL REFORM

However, the NSW government has stopped short of real reform. Its policy would also allow developments worth more than $75 million which contain more than 15 per cent affordable housing to bypass local councils and planning panels.

Sydney already has lax building standards and worst fears could be realised if residents end up in yet another Mascot Towers development with a disintegrating building.

The NSW government has kept some projects that were began by the LNP in a nod towards neoliberal policies. The huge project at Waterloo will see over 4000 public housing tenants evicted (“relocated”) and the buildings demolished to be replaced with even bigger towers. A public housing complex in Glebe with 27 bedrooms is due to be demolished and rebuilt despite vigorous protest from local residents and activists.

The Minns government has also announced that it is assessing “surplus” government land to build more housing. Only 30 per cent of housing built on this public (“government”) land will be set aside for social and affordable housing. This is exactly the same policy as the previous LNP government! 

The ALP must finally recognise that public land must be used for 100 per cent public housing.

“SOCIAL AND AFFORDABLE”

The terms “social” and “affordable” housing are often used as though they mean public housing. This is not correct. Social housing is housing run by Community Housing Providers’ who cater to the low-income market. They are heavily subsidised by both State and Federal governments.

Affordable is housing which is especially set aside at a price that is 20-25 per cent below market rent. This practice is rorted and much affordable housing makes its way into full market rent after a brief period of affordability.

PUBLIC HOUSING

What is needed to resolve the crisis is public housing – where State and Federal governments are responsible to fund construction and maintenance.

They can find the money to fund education, health, transport, museums, and much more – so why not housing?

The situation where governments have mostly pulled out of public housing, selling more and building fewer, must be reversed.

What is $2 billion for housing when the Federal government is investing $386 billion into nuclear submarines and $254 billion in stage 3 tax cuts?

HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT

Housing provides safety, emotional stability, improved physical and mental health, and a better chance of employment. It is a human right.

Public housing must extend over low income recipients to essential workers and on to all those who need a home.

Working to improve the quantity and quality of public housing is a vital activity for those dedicated to the cause of the working class and all those suffering under the rapacious capitalist system.

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