Opinion | National housing plan needed to tackle crisis

There’s been a flurry of political announcements regarding housing of late. 

Last month the NSW Government announced measures to help first home buyers. The NSW Opposition also announced, among other things, it would require 25 per cent of properties on rezoned government land be designated as affordable housing. The May Federal Budget contained a range of positive measures across the housing spectrum from first home buyers to private rental to affordable housing and homelessness.

The broader focus on housing by governments is welcome. But are they the priority measures and how do they fit together?  

The NSW Government’s announcements are largely for first home buyers. There will be more than $1 billion of stamp duty concessions. First home buyers of properties costing up to $650,000 will be exempt from the duty from July 1. Buyers of first homes worth between $650,000 and $800,000 will receive stamp duty discounts. Stamp duty charged on lenders' mortgage insurance will be abolished. The $10,000 first home owner grant will still be available to first home owners building a house worth up to $750,000. For those buying a new home the grant is available for homes worth up to $600,000.

Stamp duty concessions for properties bought off the plan, the $5000 new home grant scheme, and the ability for investors to defer payment of stamp duty for 12 months have all been abolished. This is designed to help first home buyers compete with investors. To help fund the package, the stamp duty surcharge for foreign investors will double to 8 per cent and the land tax surcharge will rise to 2 per cent.

To boost supply, $3 billion will be spent on infrastructure and the government will give interest rate subsidies to councils borrowing for eligible housing projects.

REMOVE FENCES: Measures from different governments don’t address the totality of the problem, the author argues.

REMOVE FENCES: Measures from different governments don’t address the totality of the problem, the author argues.

These and the other announcements highlight the fundamental problem we still face in properly tacking Australia’s housing crisis. They are from different governments, for different groups. Australia needs an integrated, national housing plan.

To its credit, the Federal Government signed the UN’s New Urban Agenda last year. The budget announced reforms to National Housing and Homelessness Agreements which will require state governments to hit targets for additional social and affordable housing.

What’s missing is a cohesive plan with measurable outcomes.  Housing, including social and affordable housing, needs to be viewed as part of Australia’s social and economic infrastructure and integrated with other infrastructure and jobs plans.

Determining the right measures and appropriate funding would be much easier for all governments if there was a national housing plan and a minister for housing to ensure targets are met. 

The NSW Premier has announced that a cross-government working group, helped by former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens, will explore all options to make housing more affordable for NSW residents.

Yes, states have responsibility for lots of housing levers as well as the management of social and affordable housing. But it would be better if they operated under national principles, targets and initiatives, developed by experts using the latest evidence, that take into account their combined impact on what should be the ultimate goal – affordable housing for all Australians.   

Lyndall Robertshaw is acting CEO of Hunter-based  Compass Housing Services.