The Guardian • Issue #2104

EDITORIAL

Annoying the landlords

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2104

Housing is in the news again. James Conlan, an independent councillor in Melbourne’s Merri-bek wants to charge investors higher rates than people who actually live in the houses they own. It’s a cute idea, which almost certainly won’t actually happen, but the suggestion caused fury that landlords might be mildly inconvenienced in the course of making money for doing nothing more than own something. The fact that it’s been suggested and reported on at all is important. Something is very wrong with housing in this country.

Conlan is not the first person to have ideas like this. The Greens have been getting a lot of mileage out of suggesting rent caps, raising indignation at the idea of landlords having the same restriction on their income as the one faced by almost everyone who works for a living (try raising your salary the way landlords raise rents and see how you go). Queensland has restricted rent increases to one per year.

There have been other ‘fixes’. With a lot of fanfare, the new Labor government introduced the Housing Affordability Future Fund, or HAFF which amounts to throwing money at the stock market and promising to use the returns to fund – not public, but “social and affordable” housing (see “Fund Public HousingGuardian 2065, 14 August 2023). Other bad ideas revolve around making life even easier for developers, on the grounds that the only real problem is supply (just don’t try telling the residents in Sydney’s uninhabitable Mascot Towers that the developer needed less ‘red tape’).

“Social and affordable” housing is a con – the government outsourcing housing to developers or charities organisations who can jack up the rent or flog the place later on.

Housing is not just an Australian problem – it’s worldwide. The UK moved from having public housing to the ‘right to buy,’ with the Thatcherite dream of a nation of Tory-voting homeowners. The USA came close to tanking the world’s economy in 2008, in no small part due to using housing as a way for people with a lot of money to make more of it. Their housing and credit crisis became everyone’s crisis. In New Zealand, a broken promise to build way more public housing was a factor in the fall of the Labour government of the previously universally admired Jacinta Adern.

The common factor in housing crises is capital. Capitalism can’t provide what should be a human right; safe, affordable housing for all. Capitalism is about getting a return on capital, and it doesn’t matter if the result is good for society, or meets peoples’ needs. If good things happen, that’s incidental, What matters for capital is the rate of return.

Socialism is about organising housing and the rest of the economy around what people need, not around what will make for a higher rate of return.

The Communist Party of Australia supports positive measures like rent caps, better regulation of the rental market, and the end of the capital gains and negative gearing rorts whereby people who don’t own investment properties effectively subsidise people who use housing as a way of getting richer instead of as something to live in. First and foremost, we support real public housing – owned by the people. Most of all, we support a socialist system which will put people’s needs first.

Housing is for living in, not for speculation. It should be a human right. Socialism is what we need to get it.

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