Page 451 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 16 February 2005

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The definition of affordable housing used in the bill is drawn from the standard definition of unaffordable housing, or housing stress, used by, among others, the ACT affordable housing taskforce in 2002—I refer to background paper No 4—and by the Affordable Housing National Research Consortium—that is, households in the lower 40 per cent income bracket who pay more than 30 per cent of their gross income on housing costs, whether renting or buying, are said to be in housing stress. That is how the bill will work.

As members will be aware, the need for affordable housing has not gone away. Housing options that are safe, secure, appropriate and affordable are unavailable for many people. According to Housing people building communities, another ACT Government report on housing, it was estimated that 8,400 low-income households experienced housing stress. The current average waiting time for the highest priority on the public housing waiting list is 172 days. For the second-highest category it is 564 days and for the third highest it is 902 days—nearly 3 years. There are currently 562 applications for the highest priority, 351 for the second and 902 for the third. Effectively this means that people in desperate need of housing cannot be accommodated. It also means that people who are on low incomes but without any other high needs have little chance of ever being allocated public housing.

The most recent figures from the Real Estate Institute of Australia indicate that median rents for three-bedroom houses, flats, units and apartments in the private rental market in the ACT continue to rise. The median weekly rent for a three-bedroom house in the ACT is the highest in Australia at $290 a week. The median rent for a unit, flat or apartment is $270 weekly, despite relatively high vacancy rates of 4.6 per cent. In this environment the chance of a low-income household being able to sustain a private rental tenancy is very slim.

In its social plan the government has committed to increasing the supply of public and community housing in the territory. Unfortunately this commitment has yet to be translated to a friendly housing market for people on low incomes. Increased stocks of public housing will always be the best buffer against the market. It is the only way rents will remain automatically at a level that matches tenants’ incomes. It is stable; it enables people to get some stability into their lives. The problem is we do not have enough. In its latest progress report on the affordable housing taskforce report the government agreed “in certain circumstances” to recommendation 33 relating to inclusionary zoning provisions. It is disappointing that we still have not seen any progress or future commitment to implementation.

It is even more disappointing that the last time the Assembly debated this legislation all members dismissed it seemingly without thoughtful consideration. The key argument against the legislation is that it would put a strain on the developers’ profit margins or, in Mr Quinlan’s words, it will create a de facto tax regime. In this bill we have decreased the required percentage dedicated to affordable housing from 10 per cent, and the legislation is very flexible in that it allows a number of ways for the private sector to meet this social need in partnership with government. There is flexibility in how a contribution is made and there is great capacity for the government to work with industry to provide a reduction in other charges, such as the change-of-use charge.

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