Australia: Affordable housing: the great Australian dream out of reach

THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN DREAM OUT OF REACH

Housing affordability has been the topic of much debate and discussion recently as the realisation that the once great Australian dream – home ownership – is simply out of reach for many Australians and may never be achieved by a whole generation.

In early March the Turnbull Government announced the establishment of an Affordable Housing Implementation Taskforce, tasked with developing an affordable housing bond aggregator model for consideration by the Commonwealth, States and Territories.

With most homeowners mortgaged into record debt, thirty percent of Australians living in rental properties, an increasing demand for social housing and growing homelessness in capital cities, it is clear something must be done.

Bipartisan support for the planned bond aggregator model, that would match institutional funders with the growing community housing industry and provide access to cheaper and longer term debt, is a good start. However, potential funders and the housing industry alike want to see increased government investment to reduce the cost of both buying and renting and fund the shortfall between the bonds that can be repaid with affordable rents and the initial cost of providing the new dwellings.

“TELL ‘EM THEY’RE DREAMING”

If we learnt nothing else from the iconic Australian movie, The Castle, it is that owning our own home, however humble, represents more than a roof over our heads. Surely it is the reason we work, sleep, repeat.

But with the median house price in major capital cities projected to exceed $1 million within the next decade – who can dream that big?

Not the current generation of 4.4 million millennials aged 23-40, who, according to a series of articles in The Australian (starting April 26, 2017), are postponing or cancelling plans to buy a home. The situation doesn’t look much brighter for young people leaving school now and following on the millennials heels. And, as Chris Kohler and Fred Pawle from the Australian point out: “The social and economic consequences of this for all Australians are serious and long term”.

The National Housing Affordable Housing Consortium (NAHC) has found that average Australian house prices are approximately 4-5 times the average annual household earnings. A massive shortfall of housing supply, affordable and available to the lowest income households is resulting in increased homelessness.

In a discussion paper released by the Australian Council of Social Services in 2015 entitled: An Affordable Housing Reform Agenda, the extent of the problem is detailed and makes recommendations including tax reform, investment in new affordable housing stock, innovations in finance models, changes to urban planning, land and building regulation and increased Commonwealth Rent Assistance.

McCullough Robertson Partner and Director of NAHC and a number of other community service organisations, Heather Watson says stable housing is essential to raise children, participate in paid work, develop community connections and maintain health and wellbeing. These are building blocks of a cohesive society, one which every level of government, especially the coal-face of local government, should be concerned of achieving.

SOCIAL COHESION? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

In its simplest form, Heather says, social cohesion implies social togetherness – in a community sense, a place where everyone generally gets along, shares values and a standard of living, and feels accepted and worthy.

The Scanlon Report says there is no agreed definition of social cohesion, although various versions can be found which all carry the themes of inclusion, trust and shared belief system.

“If we consider a definition of social cohesion that includes the ideal of upward mobility being possible for all those within a society or community, we can understand why and how housing affordability is so important,” Heather says.