- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #2065
Photo: Mohamed Hassan – stockvault.net (CC0).
The housing crisis continues to deepen with an estimated shortfall of 640,000 houses. Recent interest rate rises are still to take their toll on home buyers and are being passed on by landlords in rent hikes. Labor’s “solution,” the Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF), is misleading in its claims and if ever implemented would fall far short of what is urgently required.
Housing Minister Julie Collins says the HAFF would provide $500 million for social and affordable housing every year. This money could be in the form of grants or loans. At present the HAfF bill is being blocked in the Senate by the Greens (and Coalition) who say that a $2.5 billion yearly spend is needed.
The private sector has failed dismally to provide secure and affordable housing or meet demand in line with population growth. At the same time state governments have sold off large amounts of public housing stock and privatised the management of public housing.
Housing for the most vulnerable has remained a persistent issue in Australia for decades and today with increasing costs has become a problem for millions more people. There are serious shortages in the supply of suitable housing in cities and rural and regional Australia.
Bushfires and floods have highlighted the absence of emergency housing for people rendered homeless by natural disaster or other changes such as suddenly becoming unemployed or escaping domestic violence.
Homelessness services are unable to meet demand. They report that 74 per cent of those accessing their services are women and children.
For anyone purchasing a home in the past three years, mortgage costs have risen from 24.6 per cent in 2019 to 37.4 per cent of income in 2023.
The homeless and those facing the threat of homelessness or housing stress are not just statistics. They are workers and families, pensioners, carers, the unemployed. They are people struggling to make ends meet, to live dignified lives and put a roof over their heads.
More than four in five renters are in housing stress, with homelessness the leading impact of the housing crisis, a report by national housing campaign Everybody’s Home has revealed.
The report, based on an extensive survey, brought to light the human toll of the housing crisis and failure of the profit-driven private markets.
The survey responses are heart-wrenching. To cite a few examples:
“[I feel] hopeless and helpless. Feeling anxiety, restless and lost.”
“I’m homeless and I’m so scared.”
“I am terrified of being forced to live on the streets as an older woman with disabilities … I’m on society’s scrap heap. I’ve spent the last 40 years caring for others, so who is going to care about me?”
“I am a 55-year-old single mother of a pre-teen child. I work two jobs to pay the mortgage I have now after [my] divorce. My interest rates are about to increase and I am preparing to sell my house … It is terrifying.”
According to the government, the HAFF would deliver 30,000 social and affordable homes, and an additional $330 million for acute housing needs over the first five years of operation.
The Future Fund is responsible for investing over $240 billion in the Medical Research Future Fund, the Future Drought Fund and four other similar funds. Its board would be responsible for deciding how to invest the HAFF.
Unlike other future funds which were given their initial fund, the Housing Australia Future Fund’s $10 billion would be in the form of a loan, possibly making it less secure, and easily called in after the initial five years.
The $10 billion would be invested in shares, derivatives, and other products with the aim of raising the income to be spent on housing and its own costs of operating. These costs include a number of bureaucracies, financial institutions managing investments, staffing, etc (see page 3).
The bill to establish the HAFF does not guarantee $500 million would be spent on housing contrary to government claims. If, say during a recession, the income on its $10 billion investments falls short, then less, or even nothing, would be spent. Money in excess of $500 million would be returned to the fund.
Since the bill was put before Parliament for the second time on 2nd August the government has told the Greens $500 million would be guaranteed. (That will require an amendment to the bill when it returns in October.)
FAILS TO MEET NEEDS
The initial allocations of funds over five years are:
- 20,000 social housing properties – 4,000 of which are to be ‘allocated for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness’;
- $200 million for the repair, maintenance and improvements of housing in remote Indigenous communities;
- $100 million for crisis and transitional housing for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence, and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness; and
- $30 million to build more housing and specialist services for veterans who are experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness.
This program hardly scratches the surface of the housing crisis. It amounts to wilful and shameful neglect by yet another government after decades of dismantling of public housing.
The housing is to be built by the private sector and community sector. Not all the new housing will be rental accommodation. The government is relying largely on the private sector and some community housing.
“Housing costs have been rising much faster than incomes for decades. This has been fuelled by the commodification of housing, which in turn has been shaped by tax concessions that encourage speculative investment and disadvantage first homebuyers.” (Everybody’s Home)
In 2021-22 negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions by investors in housing cost the government a total of $8.5 billion. This is almost three and a half times the annual $2.5 billion the Greens are asking to be spent on public and social housing.
The Parliamentary Budget Office (BPO), in an analysis commissioned by the Greens, forecasts these costs to the public purse over the next decade would be $157 billion – $97 billon for negative gearing and $60 billion for capital gains tax discounts.
The PBO found that 85 per cent of capital gains tax concessions and 39 per cent of negative gearing flow to the top 10 per cent of income recipients. In other words, the private housing market not only generates private profits through rental income but also transfers wealth to the wealthiest through a transfer of income in the form of tax concessions.
These inequitable tax provisions must be abolished. Additional funds for public housing could be found by ending the $11.1 billion annual subsidy on fossil fuels and cancelling the AUKUS submarines – measures that would improve the wellbeing and security of Australians.
The Greens have made it clear that the HAFF does not go far enough. Their support is conditional on spending of $2.5 billion annually on public, community, and affordable housing along with “significant reforms to renters’ rights including a freeze and cap on rent increases.”
Despite PM Albanese’s claims that the federal government cannot do anything about rents, it could work with the states and territories at National Cabinet meetings to achieve such policies.
Under pressure from the Greens the government has written to them saying that it would now guarantee spending of $500 million each year – regardless of whether the HAFF makes money. It has also put a one-off $2 billion on the table for social housing.
The construction and mining union (CFMEU) is taking a proposal to this month’s ALP national conference for a 40 per cent tax on the “excess profits” of companies with a turnover of more than $100 million.
They estimate that the tax would raise $511 billion between 2023 and 2041. This would provide for the building of a total of 947,000 homes by 2041, meeting the estimated shortfall in affordable and social housing.
Clearly there is no excuse for not spending enough on public housing to meet people’s needs.
Governments at all levels should be taking urgent measures.
The federal government has a key role to play:
- Rapidly increase the stock of public housing
- Immediately raise social security payments to a level that ensures recipients can afford housing and live in dignity
- Support workers to receive real wage rises
- Legislate for basic trade union rights such as right to strike
- Control price rises
- Abolish negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions
- Use those savings to build public housing
- Call a National Cabinet meeting on housing around protections for tenants.
State and territory governments have an important role in providing stronger protections and more security for tenants; limiting rent increases; ending no-cause evictions; and providing minimum standards for rental homes.
Planned construction of public housing in rural and regional areas as well as cities according to social needs is required. Construction of public housing should be carried out by the public sector. Public housing should be managed by the public sector.
It is important that public housing is integrated with other housing to provide for a mix of people. There should be no pockets of public housing for the disadvantaged.
Superannuation funds could play a role by investing a certain percentage of their funds in the construction of public housing with a guaranteed return of income from government.
There is no material impediment to Australia adopting once again a large-scale commitment to public housing. The problem is government support for private profit-making in the housing sector.
The Communist Party of Australia recognises housing as a basic human right, a right enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. In a modern, industrialised and relatively wealthy nation like Australia there is no excuse for homelessness or people being forced to live in sub-standard conditions.
- 4 out of 5 Number of renters in housing stress
- $8.5 billion Cost of negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions, 2021-22
- 85 per cent How much of those tax concessions goes to the top 10 per cent of income recipients