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Tuesday, May 11, 2021
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Canberra Liberals suggest solutions for ACT housing crisis

Community housing providers could be the solution to the ACT’s escalating rental crisis, the Canberra Liberals believe. This week, the party will propose measures they believe the ACT Government should investigate, including releasing land, extending leases, and tax exemptions.

The ACT is the most expensive jurisdiction in Australia to rent in. (See our earlier story.) “Many families are seriously struggling with massive price hikes,” Mark Parton, Shadow Minister for Housing, said.

Median house rents were $600 and unit rents $495 a week, according to Domain’s December 2020 report; the Liberals have produced Corelogic data showing house rents had risen to $657 a week.

Mark Parton MLA, Shadow Minister for Housing

“That’s a hell of a lot for families with stretched incomes to contend with,” Mr Parton said.

Canberra’s expensive rents placed huge pressure on Canberrans on low incomes or who face disadvantage, Dr Emma Campbell, CEO of the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), agreed.

The ACT population, Dr Campbell said, had increased 18% between 2011 and 2020 – while the number of public housing dwellings had fallen from 11,063 to 10,985 over the same period. There is a shortage of 3,000 social houses; people on the general housing list can wait three and a half years; and 1,600 Canberrans experience homelessness every day.

Under its 10-year Housing Strategy, the ACT Government intends to renew 1,000 public houses and build 400 new ones – one of the largest investments in public housing per capita in Australia.

Mr Parton said: “The Labor-Greens Government is all talk on rental affordability. That is why the Canberra Liberals are calling for the investigation of a number of solutions … that the Government should seriously consider adopting, to help make life easier for Canberra families dealing with prohibitive rents.”

In a motion to the Assembly this week, the Canberra Liberals will call on the ACT Government to:

  • Investigate shared equity arrangements – where the Government provides land for community housing providers to provide housing, while maintaining an ownership stake.
  • Investigate rent supplementation lease arrangements – where the Government would auction long-term leases in bulk to community housing providers. The supplement would provide an incentive for institutional investment partnerships with community housing providers.
  • Immediately extend lease durations Housing ACT currently lets out to community housing providers. This would allow long-term certainty for community housing providers to borrow and grow.
  • Consider more extensive land tax exemptions and rates rebates for landholders leasing to community housing providers.
  • Investigate an NSW-style land tax threshold where the tax is only paid on the value of the land over a certain amount.
  • Reassess the current land release regime to determine whether supply is meeting demand.

“The Labor-Greens Government needs to acknowledge the crisis it’s created and embrace new policy ideas, especially with regards to how community housing providers can be part of the affordable housing solution for struggling renting families,” Mr Parton said.

“The Canberra Liberals are putting these ideas forward in good faith. I now challenge the Labor-Greens Government to take them on board and consider them as part of their policy mix going forward in 2021.”

A ministerial spokesperson said the ACT Government looked forward to receiving the details of Mr Parton’s motion. The Government would work through the details of this motion through the ACT Assembly.

Several of the suggestions were already under consideration or were underway through the ACT Housing Strategy, the spokesperson said.

For instance, to increase affordable rental housing, the ACT Government offers exemptions from land tax for landlords who rent their properties at 75% of market rate; implemented an Affordable Rental Real Estate management model to manage properties on behalf of private landlords at below market rent; and remitted Lease Variation Charges by 25% to encourage registered community housing providers to build more dwellings. The Government will also have released 389 single residential blocks and apartment department sites for 1,600 dwellings by June.

Dr Emma Campbell, CEO of ACTCOSS

Although the ACT Government’s investment in public housing was welcome, Dr Campbell said more needed to be done.

“We need innovative and new housing policy ideas, and so we welcome Mr Parton’s motion on this critical issue, and the debate and focus it would create.”

Investment in Canberra’s community housing providers could be a solution, Dr Campbell said.

“They are well positioned to efficiently and effectively deliver high quality housing for Canberrans facing disadvantage.”

Other initiatives in Mr Parton’s motion – such as reassessing the current land release regime and developing new shared equity arrangements – should be seriously considered to empower community housing providers to build and deliver more homes for Canberrans on low incomes, Dr Campbell said.

“If we are to achieve social justice in the ACT, social housing must be a priority for the ACT Government.”

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