Page 581 - Week 02 - Thursday, 24 March 2022

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We are in the midst of a national housing crisis. We cannot afford to have a single home in Canberra vacant while we have so many who need a home. As an Assembly, we must use all of the tools available to us to look into the as yet unexamined levers and influences that this government could have to influence skyrocketing rental and housing prices. We should not be prepared to tolerate houses and apartments sitting empty while people go without homes.

An inquiry into this issue would allow us to examine why some properties in Canberra remain vacant for long periods of time, and how the government may be able to ascertain which properties are vacant and who is responsible for them. From this information, and with a full appreciation of the size of the problem and the impact it has on managing our housing issues, we will be in a better position to make recommendations to government on what taxation and other economic levers would be appropriate to try to influence the number of rentals and houses put on their respective markets.

This inquiry would build on the work of my colleague Caroline Le Couteur, the former member for Murrumbidgee who worked hard in the Ninth Assembly to extend land taxation to vacant residential properties. In 2014 Ms Le Couteur passed a motion calling on government to investigate the benefits of a vacancy tax. This motion eventually led to the government extending land tax to properties left vacant.

By asking the committee to undertake this inquiry, we are seeking to continue these progressive social and economic reforms by investigating the opportunities available to government to encourage landlords to ensure that the properties they own are occupied by people who need places to live.

According to SQM Research, the residential property vacancy rate as of February this year was only 0.5 per cent, which may lead one to wonder why vacancy taxation should be considered by the committee as a means to lower rental prices. This rate is calculated on the number of rentals on the market, not the number of dwellings that exist that would, with the right incentives, be let out.

There is some debate as to what constitutes a vacant property. Is it a property for which residential rates are not charged or is it another inhabitable property that for a particular length of time nobody calls home? How should the government determine what is or is not vacant? Should the vacancy rate be measured on what is offered to the market or should it include situations such as developers who keep properties on the sales market, waiting for such a point at which the market is willing to pay a price they have deemed as required to sell—often a unit? At this point that is unclear, and it should be the work of such an inquiry to determine how this rate is calculated and therefore when and how extra taxation may be applied.

During my time in real estate, prior to my election to this Assembly, it was not uncommon to find developments where sometimes only 20 to 40 per cent of new apartments and new builds were sold when the certificates of occupancy were issued. If you go out looking for a home on Saturday and you meet with one of the agents selling apartments in a new development throughout the city, they will be able to take you to several units in these blocks that are sitting empty, waiting for a buyer.

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