One of the great Australian dreams is to own our own home. A major issue facing Australians today is "housing affordability", especially for first home buyers.
By 2015, one in every seven Australian taxpayers owned a rental property. First home buyers found themselves competing with investors, who were utilising Australia's negative gearing laws.
Negative Gearing has existed in Australia since 1922, where a property investor is allowed to claim losses on their 'investment' against their taxable income, thus making investing attractive. Negative gearing began as a way to encourage housing construction.
Foreign investors attracted to the Australian Real Estate market have also helped to push house prices up to unprecedented levels, especially during the peak of the Global Covid-19 pandemic during 2020-2021.
Housing affordability is now out of reach for many Australians, especially first home buyers.
Those in the private rental market have also suffered sharp rises in rent and insecurity with tenancies agreements during a ten year period of wage stagnation, combined with recent sudden hikes in inflation and the cost of living in Australia. Rental Rewards schemes have also adversely affected some tenants.
In a recent radio broadcast ABC RN presenter, Keri Phillips, invited independent urban and regional planning and housing policy experts to give their perspectives on the Australian housing and rental crises (13/11/22).
While interest rates have been at historical lows, Jago Dodson, Professor of Urban Policy and Director of the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University, points out:
The situation has been exacerbated by the ease with which cashed-up foreign 'investors' can enter the Australian Real Estate market to 'land bank' properties with the capital gains they are speculating on amassing as property prices continue to soar, often due to the highly inflated prices these investors are willing to pay to get a foot into the Australian property market.
Local and foreign developers have also been successful in 'convincing' Local Governments to change planning laws to allow them to amalgamate the titles of existing detached-homes and strata-titled unit blocks in order to construct high-rise, high density 'luxury apartment' and 'penthouse' developments that they (falsely) claim will alleviate the current 'housing crisis'.
The development industry is particularly adept at using the above 'housing crisis' PR spin in Queensland where the State Government has directed the City of Gold Coast to plan for housing supplies to cater for an increase in its current population of approximately 650,000 to 1 million by 2041 under State Government growth targets.
However, the cost of renting these 'luxury apartments and penthouses' currently being constructed on the Gold Coast involves exorbitant weekly rental prices, well above previous market rates for affordable rental properties.
Many of the new owner/landlords pitch their 'luxury' accommodation to high paying short-term vacationers and Airbnb clients, so as to claw back their often inflated purchase price and to cover their expensive perpetual 'body-corp' fees for the service and maintenance of elevators and shared 'luxury' amenities such as rooftop pools, gymnasiums etc.This tactic does nothing to cater for current and future housing shortages on the Gold Coast.
As a consequence, property and apartment prices have also been forced up beyond the reach of most middle and low income Australians trying to enter the home ownership market for the first time or attempting to find affordable long-term rental housing.
And those wanting to move to places like the Gold Coast to fill the labour shortages in the aged and healthcare sectors and education, tourism and hospitality industries are unable to move to the Gold Coast because of prohibitively high rental costs and home purchase prices.
According to the Real Estate Institute of Queensland, the Gold Coast's rental vacancy rate has fallen from a high of 5.2 per cent in June 2011, to 0.6 per cent in September 2022.
By mid-2022, the median rent for a Gold Coast house rose 40% when it reached $868 a week — up by $248 since 2019, while the median Gold Coast house price was $875,881, a 32 per cent jump over the previous 12 months.
The total number of rental listings on the Gold Coast is the lowest it has ever been according to new data from CoreLogic and long-term rentals are being turned into short-term holiday stays over the Christmas period.
Exacerbating the rental situation, it is estimated up to 20% of new Gold Coast apartments are sitting vacant as investments. These vacant properties are held for long-term capital gains by investors, resulting in a major reduction in the availability of Gold Coast rental properties to households.
Deep into 2022, the Australian housing affordability crisis continues to worsen as wages remain stagnant and interest rates, inflation and the cost of living continue to climb.
In recognition of the growing housing affordability and rental market supply crises, Federal Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, unveiled a National Housing Accord in the newly elected Labor Government's first budget in October 2022.
Dr Chalmers revealed the accord's "ambitious but achievable" aims that include the construction of a million "well located" properties over five years from 2024.
(from Finn McHugh, Canberra Times, 25 October 2022)
The Federal Government claims that they are committed to working with States and Territories, Local Governments and private investors to reshape housing in Australia with a joint commitment to also building fifty thousand social and affordable homes.
In the past, the term 'social housing' described public housing owned and operated by the State. Dodson maintains that social housing includes both community and public housing and was typically rented at a ratio of 25-30% of Tenant income.
Social housing was generally targeted at those individuals and households in the greatest social distress who were on low incomes, such as pensioners or other forms of welfare income.
Community housing was more often targeted to different client groups with specific forms of housing to meet particular needs, such as supported housing for people with disabilities.
During the 1990s,10% of all Australian housing construction as a proportion of housing stock was social housing. Over the past 20 years social housing has been scaled back to only 2% of all housing construction.
Nicole Gurran, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Sydney, exposes the previous Federal L-NP Coalition government as having invested in only 2-3,000 social/affordable houses per year. Prior to the L-NP coming to power in 2013, previous Federal governments invested in the construction of 10-15,000 social/affordable houses per year.
Gurran claims there are currently 150-170,000 Australians on the waiting list for social housing.
According to Dodson, the term 'affordable housing' refers to housing that is priced at a rate below the prevailing market rate given the type and location of the dwelling. Affordable housing may be owned and operated by a charitable or non-government organisation that reduces its tax burden through its charitable status.
Affordable housing rental rates tend to be closer to 70-80% of Tenant income or more commonly, slightly more than 70-80% of the current market rate that the dwelling would command under the private rental market. Affordable rental housing is mostly targeted at clients such as low income tenants whether they be welfare recipients or low income workers.
To be effective, social and affordable housing must be well located in relation to public transport, potential workplaces, shops, schools, childcare and medical/hospital facilities.
Since the 1990s, Pawson maintains that in addition to Government housing-policy failings, regulations in Australia have also failed to ensure that the private market was delivering enough low-cost housing:
House price inflation has so dramatically outpaced wages growth, house prices have literally "gone through the roof."
H. Pawson. ABC RN 13/11/22
Dodson charts the years immediately after World War 2 when the Australian Government assisted in housing "not only for low income renters but low income buyers as well."
State Housing Commissions were initially set up to build large numbers of social housing dwellings but from the 1950s onwards they switched to building dwellings for sale into the private housing market.
A huge increase in the quality and volume of dwellings in Australia during the post-war period saw a massive increase in home ownership and an increase in the public housing sector that coincided with a decrease in the private rental sector.
At the conclusion of World War 2 in 1945, only 52% of Australians owned their own dwelling and the remainder lived in the private rental sector.
Over the next 20 years Australia increased the proportion of households who were homeowners by 20%, so by the early 1970s, 72% of households were homeowners.
Dodson points to statistics that reveal between the 2016 Census and 2021 Census there has been a slight increase in the number of households who are home occupiers during a period of historically low borrowing interest rates.
However, households are delaying home ownership and taking longer to pay off mortgages compared with 20 to 40 years ago, "but eventually catch up later in life and in their late-60s…"
Delaying home ownership, leading to paying off mortgages much later in life brings its own kind of financial, social, physical and mental stresses and health issues. Households in this situation are more likely to forgo necessary medical attention (with its associated costs) in order to ensure they keep up their mortgage repayments. This can lead to chronic and/or life threatening physical and mental illnesses not being treated in a timely manner.
These households may also sacrifice their family's educational, recreational, vacation and social opportunities into their late 60s when the mortgage is finally paid off.
Apart from the mental stress this causes, members of these households a vulnerable to acquiring addictive behaviours such as alcohol, drugs and gambling to compensate for their lack of disposable income to enjoy the healthier activities mentioned above, thus putting greater financial, health and mental stress on the household and the State.
And given Australian households are remaining in the private rental market for much longer than previous generations, Dodson claims renters run the risk of being,
Hal Pawson, Professor of Housing Research and Policy at UNSW, refers to the Productivity Commission's recent findings that 170,000 Australian households are left with less than $250 per week after they paid for the 'roof over their heads'.
The Australian Census reveals that during the 1990s the number of low income private renter households was under 50,000. In 2020, low income private renter households exceeded 200,000.
The latest Rental Affordability Index (RAI) released on 29 November 2022 shows rents are escalating faster than household incomes across the country, prompting New Daily reporter, George Hyde's headline:
Since 2016, the median rental rate in Hobart has grown by 60 per cent. It is now 11 per cent higher than the Melbourne median, despite the average rental household income being 18 per cent lower than Melbourne incomes.
RAI has also revealed that regional areas have been the hardest hit. The worst affected states are Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia. The regional areas of Queensland and Tasmania are now at their most unaffordable in the period measured by the RAI.
However, Pawson claims:
Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) revealed:
SPA noted a stark increase in the number of people with suicidal ideations due to housing affordability and availability with Queenslanders more at risk than most other Australians. Cost of living and personal debt remain the number one concern.
(from Jackie Sinnerton. GCB, 12/12/22)
Pawson maintains that Australia has relatively light regulation of private rental housing compared to other countries.
Pawson points to countries like Scotland and New Zealand where the government has "modernised the residential rental framework in a significant way", especially by increasing tenant security.
The most important part of this modernisation lay in creating a system where a landlord doesn't have unlimited power to end a tenancy and "a tenancy can only end for specified reasons that are stated in law."
In 2021, the Victorian Labor Government introduced a set of reforms to private rental regulations that "substantially emulate what Scotland did in 2015."
It is well documented that key workers in fields such as education and healthcare find it difficult to rent in the communities they serve.
As a response, Demographics Group (Melbourne) co-founder, S. Kuestenmacher, is currently advising major employers of health, education and hospitality staff to build or subsidise affordable rentals for their employees in a return to a model used during Europe's industrial revolution 200 years ago, to ensure access to staffing:
Australian superannuation funds are also beginning to invest in the construction of residential apartment towers "where key workers, including nurses, teachers and emergency services personnel can rent at as much as a 20 per cent discount to the market rate."
(from Nathan Mawby. Herald-Sun, 27 November 2022)
The model of an employer providing or constructing nearby affordable housing for employees is not new to Melbourne where it was first successfully tried in 1906.
Industrialist H. V. McKay founded the Sunshine Harvester works, an Australian factory manufacturing agricultural equipment, when he moved his established agricultural implement works and many of his employees from Ballarat to Braybrook Junction in 1906, where he had earlier purchased the struggling Braybrook Implement Works.
McKay named his new factory the Sunshine Harvester Works after his highly successful agricultural product, the 'Sunshine Harvester'.
McKay also invested in the construction of houses for his employees near to his factory. This included, enabling workers to buy houses through affordable loans from the company and the use of facilities such as tennis courts, cricket grounds, gardens and a church. The employees also lived in tree-lined avenues and had electricity supplied by the Sunshine factory.
McKay's Sunshine Estate is considered a pioneering development of a company town based on the town planning principles of the 'Garden City Movement'. The principles of the Garden City movement were first developed in England by Ebenezer Howard in 1898.
In 1925, McKay's pioneering 'employee housing scheme' attracted the following compliments:
Dr Laurence Troy, senior lecturer in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney, suggests our whole housing model is deeply embedded in our social model in Australia:
Julie Lawson, Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University and lead author of the UN Study, Housing 2030, refers to Finland as a successful model for creating affordable home ownership, especially for young families in Finland:
Nicole Gurran cites Singapore:
ABC Radio RN presenter, Keri Phillips suggests that the Australian Government is unlikely to follow the Singapore Government's example and that the "Housing Accord is only a modest, if positive, development."
However,the current Victorian Labor Government is leading other States and the Federal Government with its announcement in 2020 of a $5.3bn "big housing build" to fund 12,000 new social and affordable homes in four years.
While long-term and lifetime renters continue to increase as a proportion of Australian households, the construction company Mirvac is currently adopting a build-to-rent model for rental housing that has been in operation in the USA and UK for the past 10-15 years where it has been popular.
Tenants have an indefinite lease, are not required to pay a bond and are permitted to redecorate and change the paint colours of their apartment. Tenants claim it is like renting but they treat the apartment as if it's their own place.
A Melbourne "build to rent" tower was unveiled by Mirvac in December 2022. The 490 apartment building is adjacent to the Queen Victoria Market in central Melbourne and has been called a "renters' paradise" by tenants.
Mirvac's "LIV Munro" offers a variety of apartment options from studios to 3 bedroom apartments and pets are allowed.
Tenants are able to transfer units to upsize and downsize throughout their tenure and have access to 24 hour desk service.
In the upmarket build-to-rent housing models, tenants have access to facilities such as swimming pools, ballet and yoga studios, a wellness centre, entertainment spaces and co-working facilities.
The 39-storey build-to-rent LIV Munro building is the second such tower to be built in Melbourne, following the launch of the 59-storey "Home" tower on Southbank in August 2022. Mirvac are planning on providing 5000 build-to-rent apartments in two new Melbourne locations by 2030.
At the moment the build-to-rent model of rental housing does not necessarily fall into the 'affordable rental housing' category with unfurnished studio apartments in the "Home" building starting at $595 per week rental rate.
However, if a more basic model without the swimming pools, yoga studios etc was offered by private build-to-rent developers, a greater supply of low-to-moderate cost, non-luxury rental apartments could be supplied to rental market.
Carol Viney, the newly appointed head of fund manager Super Housing Partnerships says,
HESTA CEO, Heather Blakey, agrees with Viney:
Another model being trialled in Melbourne to better facilitate affordable home ownership is the build-to-rent-to-buy concept. For example,
The 'build-to-rent' and 'build-to-rent-to-buy' models are in stark contrast to what is (mostly) occurring in the private 'residential' development industry throughout much of the rest of Australia.
This is especially the case on the Gold Coast, Queensland, where 'assetisation' dominates the residential housing construction landscape.
Pawson claims 'assetisation' is a major contributor to a lack of housing affordability in Australia, leading to delayed home ownership or households caught in a lifetime of private renting.
Dodson insists, Australia needs a change to the way the tax system effectively subsidises private landlords through negative gearing that allows landlords to deduct the costs associated with their properties from taxable income.
Over the last 3 years the interest burden for landlords has been very low but with interest rates going up we'll start to see landlords writing off interest payments at higher levels. So the tax concession of negative gearing is going to become more costly over the next few years. It's currently looking at about $8 billion.
Dodson asks the questions the government has avoided addressing:
The 2022 YouGov polling on suicide prevention revealed important community insights.
The third highest "emerging suicide risk" (just behind 'Cost of Living/Personal Debt' and 'Social Isolation/Loneliness') was 'Housing Access and Affordability'.
Respondent views in the YouGov survey regarding the interventions needed to tackle emerging suicide risks associated with housing access and affordability included:
Dodson suggests there are various ways negative gearing could be turned into a private rental subsidy where landlords are required to target particular tenant groups, setting minimum quality standards for the dwelling and turning it into a low income housing tax credit where they have to invest in a given institutional housing project rather than an individual dwelling.
Dodson concludes that the issue we are going to have to deal with is the continued subsidy of the petty landlord who writes off the cost of investment at great expense to the public purse through negative gearing:
Perhaps only then will Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmer's well-intentioned National Housing Accord have a fair chance of success.
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Koala Invest. Build-to-Rent-to-Buy Model
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