Australia, We Need To Talk Strategy: National Housing Strategy


The potential Australian housing market crisis is making headlines all over the country, but what we may have overlooked is how a national housing strategy might be the obvious solution to a complicated situation.

A comprehensive national housing strategy has the potential to dispel the two major housing crises faced by Australians – affordability and supply.

According to the Affordable Housing Party of Australia, the legislation we currently have in place does not conform to a national or even international standard, and actually fails to protect the basic right to adequate housing.

The Chairperson of National Shelter, Australia’s voice for housing consumers, Adrian Pisarski believes that a national housing strategy is much overdue.

“More than one in 10 Australian households will experience housing stress this year and yet the last National Housing strategy was developed in 1991,” Mr Pisarski said in a statement.

To give you an idea of how long ago that was – it was back when Rialto Towers in Melbourne was the tallest building in Australia (sitting at 260m and 50 floors).

Nations such as America, the United Kingdom and even the Philippines have put national housing strategies into place with great success – so, what’s stopping us?According to research conducted by AEC Group and commissioned by the Property Council of Australia, the property industry has almost doubled its contribution to Australian GDP in the last decade and now has the economy’s largest footprint – at one ninth of Australia’s total economic activity.

For an industry that takes up one ninth of Australia’s economy, it’s alarming to see that we are still relying on a disjointed collection of state and federal legislative reforms instead of one seamless national housing strategy to tackle various housing problems.

But, isn’t the NAHA enough?
This isn’t to say that there is nothing in the way of a federal housing strategy – in fact, there is the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) as well as three major supporting agreements: Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA), National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) and the First Home Owners Scheme.

Yet, just from reading that paragraph, you’ve probably realised that the NAHA legislation is nothing but fragmented and disjointed.

According to a review of the NAHA done in 2011 by Hellene Gronda and Lauren Costello for the AHURI Research Synthesis Service, the best way forward is to create a uniform framework.

“The architecture of the existing NAHA is complex and fragmented over a range of different agreements and reform directions,” the report said.

“Much of the Australian evidence base calls for a more uniform framework for planning across jurisdictions in order to provide a more seamless and effective mechanism to increase the supply of affordable housing.”

What needs to happen?

According to the Property Council of Australia, all fingers are pointing toward an agreement between states and territories to tackle the housing issues.

“All the evidence shows that greater cooperation across all levels of government is required to resolve some of the biggest issues around housing,” Ken Morrison, Chief Executive of PCA said.

“Significant changes are required to unlock further growth in the property industry – an industry the whole economy is increasingly reliant on to do well. And those changes can’t happen unilaterally.”

In the case of a comprehensive national strategy being unattainable, an alternative could be to strengthen ties between the federal and state governments to keep housing moving forward.

According to Chris Johnson, CEO of Urban Taskforce, simply giving state governments more federal support might present a greater opportunity for Australia to tackle its housing issues.

“There needs to be national strategies … but I don’t think it’s going to work if the federal government takes over planning,” Mr Johnson said.

“There are roles for the federal government to intervene to try and get more affordable housing happening … but the running of cities has to be a state government responsibility.”

Why hasn’t anything happened yet?

So, why hasn’t anything happened yet? Well, the answer may very well be because we aren’t sure how to develop a ‘one size fits all’ strategy that will adequately address every individual state and territory issue.

Take for instance, the South Australian comprehensive housing strategy. The SA housing strategy report focuses on the state’s existing strengths in planning, land development, housing construction, home financing and social housing.

Whereas, if we fly west – the Western Australian housing strategy places its focus on partnering with the private and not-for-profit sectors to finance, develop and deliver long term affordable housing solutions.

Another factor that could be delaying the implementation of a national housing strategy is the apparent disconnect between federal and state governments.

Last month, Queensland’s Minister for Housing & Public Works, Hon. Leeanne Enoch convened a teleconference with a number of other state housing ministers to discuss the issue and there was a strong unanimity that there was need for further work in the arena.

“At the moment, two of the three proposals put forward by the Commonwealth essentially see them withdraw from this space. That’s not a solution – we need all levels of government working with the community and industry sectors to address these issues,” Ms Enoch said.

However, a promising sign in the move toward a national housing strategy is the taskforce set up by Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey earlier this year.

“The national taskforce on housing affordability established earlier this year by Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey is an encouraging first step towards greater federal/state cooperation on housing,” Ken Morrison, CEO of the PCA said.

Where do we go from here?

Unfortunately, the Treasurer’s national taskforce has been met with scepticism – leaving the question of the future still open for discussion.

Whether we leave things as they are, opt for a comprehensive national strategy or just strengthen federal/state ties – it comes down to the property industry to lead the charge.

Until we can answer the question “what does the perfect housing strategy look like?” we may be left scratching our heads and watching the Australian housing market head further into unchartered territory.

Whichever way we decide to move forward, something needs to change.

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