The Guardian • Issue #2006

Election 2022: where do the major parties stand on housing?

Heading into the 2022 Federal Election on 21st May, housing is once again a major issue. The cost of housing increased by twenty-five per cent in 2021, shutting more and more Australians out of the market. As far as the major cities are concerned, the rise has been steepest in Hobart at 26.8 per cent followed closely by Canberra at 24.4 per cent and Sydney at 23.6 per cent. The cost of renting has similarly soared, up twenty-one per cent while the availability of affordable rental properties shrinks.

The sources of the crisis are obvious. Decades of reckless and irresponsible government policy have incentivised billionaires and property developers to buy up multiple properties, ratcheting up the prices and shutting the average Australian out of the property market.

Both the major parties have policy positions on housing, aimed at increasing the accessibility of the housing market. However, the schemes are extremely limited in their scope and fail to address the root causes of the problem.

Both schemes are two sides of the same coin; government subsidisation of home loans to enable buyers to access the to market. In addition, Labor has also committed to building “20,000 social housing properties – 4,000 of which will be allocated for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.”

20,000 new lost cost homes, twenty per cent of those for victims of family violence and at-risk women are undeniably a good thing. But we need to be clear about the drawbacks of this scheme.

Social housing is not the same as public housing. Social housing is an umbrella term that encompasses both public and community housing. It is a convenient way for governments to offload their responsibility for housing the vulnerable onto – at times unscrupulous, at others simply overburdened – NGOs and community housing organisations.

Community housing is in general lower quality and more expensive (for more on this issue see Guardian #1942 “Social housing scheme only a drop in the ocean”). Not to mention, these 20,000 new proposed properties are barely a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed nationally. Victoria alone has more than 10,000 people on its public housing waiting list.

A couple of new social housing blocks and some loan subsidies are band-aid solutions to a structural problem. For as long as property developers and investors are able to hold housing for ransom – demanding exorbitant prices due to an artificial shortage – no amount of government lending is going to solve the housing crisis.

For all their flaws, the Greens are on the right track with their housing policy. Increasing taxes on billionaires and scrapping incentives and handouts for property developers will help to disincentivise the greed that feeds the current crisis. The extra revenue can then be reinvested into building many more than 20,000 affordable housing properties, reducing the pressure on the market and – hopefully – bringing down prices.

Housing is a human right. None of the major parties can be trusted to deliver on that right. It is time for deeper systemic change to end the crisis at its source – the greed of capitalist developers and property investors.

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