Page 3159 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 22 August 2017

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Anglicare has referred to this collapse in affordable rentals as catastrophic and cause for major concern. Indeed, this government continues its journey to come to grips with the problem, as exemplified by its recent issue of a community conversation paper. The minister is commended for doing this as a lead-in to her housing and homelessness summit in October. The government has obviously become more conscious of the need for genuine community consultation, and we applaud that. The challenges presented by housing stress and homelessness are not a recent discovery for this government. The time line in the community consultation paper shows various reflections on the problem going back as far as 2007, starting with the affordable housing action plan.

The conversation paper focuses on an area of deep concern—that is, the two lowest income quintiles in the Canberra community. These two cover about 60,000 households which must survive on less than $100,000 per annum, with the lowest quintile surviving on $55,000 per annum or less. Of course, if household members are dependent on social welfare, such as the disability support pension, the age pension or Newstart, then the situation can be far worse. Households in these quintiles are either well below the rental and mortgage affordability thresholds or just on the borderline. People in these quintiles are in significant peril.

This budget imposes record levels of residential rates, land taxes and government charges. When combined with the skyrocketing cost of electricity and gas and the raft of other government charges, it makes it hard yards for many living in Canberra. And this is not helped by an overheated property market, with the current residential vacancy rate running at a little over one per cent. According to one housing analyst, median house prices are currently around $635,000 and units at $442,000. Others have cited median house prices of $700,000. Of course, these are median values; a few would be well under these figures and many others would be a fair bit higher. Depending on where a household might sit within the lower income quintiles, purchasing a unit might be within the reach of the second lowest quintile, but less so a standalone house. And the lowest quintile would have no hope at all. Home ownership is supposed to be the great Australian dream, but that is not the case here in the ACT.

In order to address housing supply the government says it plans to release 16,250 dwelling sites over the budget and forward estimates. This is somewhat lower than previous budget cycles, where more than 17,000 dwelling sites were to be released, and we must not forget that the 2017-18 budget land release figure contains more than 3,000 sites for sale under the asset recycling initiative. While these sites will supply the commercial market, the sales proceeds go towards the light rail project, so the receipts do not directly address resource shortcomings for social housing.

With the sorts of land supply volumes made available in the budget at play, you would not think we had an affordable housing or homelessness problem, but it is quite obvious that we do. A previous Chief Minister has suggested the problem might be in the land release program itself. The ACT is unique in this space as we have a monopoly over land supply and can therefore choose how we meet demand and how we allow the community to choose between residential units or standalone housing.

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