Community housing offers a solution to Australia’s housing crisis but the sector is being held back by short sighted government policy and a lack of investment, a conference has heard.
Wendy Hayhurst, CEO of the Community Housing Industry Association, said community housing must be part Australia’s housing future, and questioned the small “boutique solutions” approach taken by the government.
Community housing providers (CHPs) have the capacity to respond to the crisis but are “waiting for the starting gun” from the government, she told the National Housing Conference in Darwin.
“We want to see community housing embraced as a major player here,” she said. “Not someone that’s just contracted to do things but that’s actually embraced by government as part of the solution.”
Ms Hayhurst said government policy had seen social housing become residualised, but well-housed people could have a powerful economic impact.
“They contribute to the economy, they can pay more taxes, she said.”
A million homes over 20 years
Only 4.4 per cent of Australia’s housing stock is social housing, and there are 40,000 social housing dwellings across the country, according the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Report.
CHIA predicts a 1 million shortfall in community housing in 20 years and wants to see 200,000 new affordable and social housing units by 2028.
“What we’re saying is there’s round about 650,000 shortfall at the moment because we haven’t been investing in social and affordable housing,” she told Government News.
Ms Hayhurst called for an investment of around $5.5 billion over the next 20 years, saying upfront capital grants would work out best for government.
She said the government had to adopt a long term vision, rather than pursuing small scale projects, one-off stimulus packages or initiatives that dropped off after a few years like the National Rental Assistance Scheme (NRAS).
Community housing is being held back by “the absence of steady, long term, serious, non-partisan, co-ordinated government investment”, she said.
CHIA’s National Plan for Affordable Housing says Australia has one of the smallest proportions of social housing among OECD countries and cites a decline in the proportion of households in social housing from 7.1 per cent in 1991 to 4.2 per cent.
It says even if half of Australia’s 220,000 new dwellings each year were made affordable for low to moderate income households it would take over five years of new supply to address rental stress.
NHFIC ‘a game changer’
However, Ms Hayhurst says there’s been a recent growth in community housing, largely as a result of taking on management of existing public housing.
“I’d argue that we’ve made a good fist of that,” she said.
The sector has also been able to benefit from the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC), set up by the commonwealth to offer loans, investments and grants to encourage investment in affordable housing.
NHFIC announced in July that it had issued its first ever construction loan to community Housing provider Blue CHP which will borrow $45.7 million for 93 new affordable dwellings in Sydney.
Speaking at the conference, Charles Northcote from Blue CHP described the NHFIC as “a game changer in our industry”.
But he added it was just “one part of the jigsaw” and consistency in government policy and a “20-year plus” strategy was also required.
No longer a bit player
Ms Hayhurst told the conference the sector now owns or manages $30 billion in assets and has built 23,000 homes since 2008.
“We’re no longer a minor player,” she said.
In NSW alone the industry expects to have delivered 2,700 homes at a value of $963 million between 2012-28.
“Invest in us, put the land in, give us a long term lease,” she said.
“Make housing not just a fringe benefit of city deals, but make a housing city deal or a regional housing deal. Give us the title to the housing that’s transferred and allow us to redevelop. Incentivise states to put in land.
“We will be value for money. We will be a trusted partner.”
In a poll of delegates taken the conference, 56 per cent said they the single factor that would help the community housing sector grow was government investment, followed by 23 per cent who nominated a development strategy.for the sector.
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