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Opportunity for Senate Enquiry to address real issues 21/12/2013

If we are to address housing affordability we need to really understand community expectations.

With Christmas just around the corner people are looking to those less fortunate than themselves. Last week the Senate Economic Reference Committee announced an enquiry into Affordable Housing. Over the last decade we have seen reviews at both the State and Federal levels by different parties and they all tend to come up with the same conclusions being:

  • The infrastructure costs for servicing new dwellings (whether infill or greenfields) is crippling
  • The existing dwelling stock does not meet the requirements of the aging population
  • The location of the dwelling stock may create additional transport burdens for residents accessing employment.
  • The approvals system is slow and complicated.

The challenge is that none of these are easy to rectify as there is a complicated web of interconnected issues.  But that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. In Western Australia a progress report on the Implementation of the Affordable Housing Strategy is quite eye opening.

Since January 2010 people on very low incomes benefited from the 3,690 new social houses and 4,909 lots that were produced by the Housing Authority and its joint venture partners. Keystart Home Loans helped 2,891 households to purchase a home with 434 households participating in the “Shared Start” program where the Department of Housing co-owns up to 40 percent of the property.

The challenge is that these steps are not actually addressing affordability; rather they are reducing the threshold for people entering into the market, which is positive, but not the solution. Government programs can only do so much; community also needs to engage in this issue.

Going forward we need to consider our infrastructure expenditure as much of it is used to address peak load.  Around twenty percent of electricity infrastructure, for example, is designed to address the top two percent of use, those very hot days where everybody uses their air conditioners. Is that risk adverse investment necessary? Likewise with community infrastructure, do we need everything upfront paid for through levies worth thousands of dollars or should it be delivered over time through rates and grants?

If we are to address housing affordability we need to really understand community expectations. We need to work out what is important for us and those things that fit under the heading of “nice to have.”

Let’s hope that the Senate Enquiry shines more than a spotlight on housing affordability, hopefully they will put forward viable, community accepted solutions to this complex problem.

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