In opposition, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews flagged a tightening in Commonwealth spending on public housing. With 100,000 Australians on the streets, social housing advocates are worried.
In a speech in July, Andrews stated that despite the “social crisis in Australia”, “the end goal should not be to spend ever-greater amounts of public money on housing”. “The states and the territories … are at the front line of housing services, the Commonwealth is not the primary government in this regard,” he said, noting “if elected, [the Coalition] would provide support for those who genuinely need it, and not increase the number of people in support”.
The speech appears to be the only detailed public statement on housing policy made by Andrews. Crikey sought a comment from the minister’s office but was referred to the speech by the Department of Social Services.
The chairman of housing peak body National Shelter, Adam Farrar, welcomes points in the speech but says funding for homelessness services needs to increase, along with Commonwealth rental assistance and the number of affordable houses for people on a low income.
In June 2012 there were still 164,323 people on waiting lists for subsidised housing. Andrews says within five to 10 years “we’re facing a shortage of 300,000 [affordable] dwellings”.
Commonwealth funding has been guided by the National Affordable Housing Agreement through which $6.2 billion was invested in housing projects between 2009-2013. About 20,000 new social housing dwellings have been built.
Andrews said that “the Coalition supports the objectives of NAHA” but will make NAHA competitive and performance-based with measurable performance indicators. Matched funding from states has also been flagged.
According to Farrar: “What we are not doing is addressing the structural problems.” He calls for a growth fund for new investment in affordable housing separate to subsidies for rents for low-income households. “Because of rationed supply … rental incomes can’t meet the costs of running the system,” he told Crikey.
Carol Croce from the Community Housing Federation of Australia says her group supports more accountability to make it easier to see what Commonwealth funding has bought. But she says housing is so scarce that “the only way you can get into public housing is if you are homeless” as opposed to on a low income.
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Andrews said the Coalition is “committed to working with state governments around Australia to help seamlessly transfer public housing to the more dynamic and responsive community housing sector, where appropriate”, leaving open the question of whether the Coalition wants government to continue playing a role in the provision and management of public housing.
“We cannot afford to have this most fundamental social safety net cut. The new federal government has to clarify what its position is.”
He said he would prefer to see funding used effectively “by charities doing their work, and community organisations in our community, and the private sector to help vulnerable people right throughout the country”.
But Croce says “we think there is a role for both”. “There needs to be an option for people who need government subsidised housing,” she said.
With organisations such as National Shelter calling for the delivery of an extra 200,000 social and affordable rental dwellings by 2021, a range of funding models are being proposed making use of public assets and revolving loan schemes. The up-shot of this for the states is that there might be less federal funding to build affordable housing.
States currently led by conservative governments have already experienced changes in spending on affordable housing. The Queensland government has said “by 2020, we want to see up to 90% of all social housing managed by the community housing sector”, leading to criticism by the opposition Labor party that “undermining the public housing system also puts pressure on the stressed private housing market where many families are already competing to find affordable housing”.
In Victoria, opposition housing spokesman Richard Wynne points to the small number of social housing dwellings being built in 2013-14. He says only 195 units are being constructed.
“This is the lowest targeted increase in decades,” he said. “We cannot afford to have this most fundamental social safety net cut. The new federal government has to clarify what its position is.”
Victorian Housing Minister Wendy Lovell points to 547 new homes delivered under the Commonwealth Housing Affordability Fund. Lovell said: “We look forward to working constructively with the new Commonwealth government to improve social housing opportunities for those Victorians in need.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also said that abolishing the carbon tax will take $5000 off the price of the average new home.