Housing Affordability Declines Further

HIA’s Affordability Index shows Housing affordability in Australia continued to decline in the June quarter this year. This is largely due to a rise in the median dwelling price of 9.1% per cent to a record high of $540,200.

The HIA Affordability Index is produced quarterly and uses a range of data to including wages, house prices and borrowing costs to provide an indication of the affordability of housing. A higher index result signifies a more favourable affordability outcome.

The growth in house prices in the quarter outstripped the growth in wages resulting in the deterioration in affordability. As a consequence of these factors the Affordability index for Australia dropped by 0.3 per cent in the June 2017 quarter.

NSW was the most significant negative influence on this result with affordability in Sydney now declining past a critical level (Sydney, – 0.7% and the rest of NSW, – 2.2 per cent). Acquiring and servicing a mortgage on a house in Sydney now requires more than two standard Sydney incomes. Sydney is the only market to have achieved this outcome in the 15 year history of this report.

Affordability in Melbourne improved marginally in the quarter but remains 6.0 per cent less affordable than this time last year.

On the positive side, during the June 2017 quarter, affordability improved in six of the eight capital cities. The largest improvement occurred in Darwin (+4.3 per cent), followed by Adelaide (+2.9 per cent), Hobart (+1.6 per cent), Brisbane (+1.0 per cent), Canberra (+0.8 per cent) and Melbourne (+0.8 per cent).

Of the capitals where affordability worsened, the biggest deterioration was in Perth (-1.3 per cent) and Sydney (-0.7 per cent). The Perth deterioration in affordability appears to contradict the soft conditions in that market but the fall in average wages in Perth in the quarter outweighed the positive impact on affordability from the falls in home prices.

Four outdated assumptions prevent progress on affordable housing

From The Conversation.

Housing influences everything from productivity and employment through to intergenerational poverty and childhood education. Yet outdated concepts and thinking are shaping Australia’s troubled housing system.

My recent research – involving in-depth interviews with leaders across government, NGOs, the private sector and academia – identified four misguided assumptions about affordable housing.

These key assumptions are about:

  • the difference between housing affordability and affordable housing;
  • home ownership versus renting;
  • stereotypes about those in need of affordable housing; and
  • voters not valuing affordable housing.

Tackling these assumptions could help change how Australians think about their housing system.

Housing affordability versus affordable housing

The cost of home ownership has long been of concern for governments and people. These discussions largely relate to “housing affordability”, as it applies to those who live in – or aspire to live in – their own home.

There are two other categories in the housing market, which are less glamorous and well publicised. These are those in the private rental market (with or without government assistance), and those who cannot access the private rental market (and thus require access to social housing).

“Affordable housing” largely relates to these latter two categories. Specifically, it refers to public and community housing, as well as the affordable end of the private rental market.

It is not well appreciated that the requirements of affordable housing are related to – but not the same as – those for housing affordability. The challenges of home ownership for middle-to-high-income earners are very different to the struggles of low-income earners in finding a place to rent – let alone own. Yet there is an assumption that increasing supply is a silver bullet for both groups.

However, increasing supply for middle-to-high-income earners doesn’t necessarily create more affordable housing for low-income earners. The benefits don’t simply trickle down.

Likewise, actions to improve affordable housing do not necessarily relate to, or affect, the housing investments of middle-to-high-income earners.

Prioritising home ownership over renting

Home ownership is not possible for many, due to various life circumstances. Some people may have been able to access social housing or, due to decade-long waiting lists, have been exposed to the vagaries of the private rental market.

For others, renting is a choice. Private rental has become a long-term option for many Australians: about one-third of Australian households rent.

Despite its importance, the rental market remains the least secure and most neglected pillar of our housing system. Neglect has led to a chronic shortage of affordable rental properties for low-to-moderate-income earners, particularly anywhere near employment.

Australia also lags behind many other countries when it comes to tenancy regulations. Leases of 12 months or less are the norm.

Culturally, home ownership is still seen as superior to renting. Such deeply entrenched views accompany an assumption that renting is a short-term transitional phase, not a desirable end state.

Stigmas and stereotyping of those in need

Stereotypes abound about those who require affordable housing. This, in part, is fuelled by media portrayals and lack of lived experience.

People who experience housing stress or need assistance are in fact diverse. They include the homeless through to essential workers on moderate incomes.

A significant proportion of people in social housing are aged under 14 or older than 55. Home owners can even encounter unforeseen surprises: one in five experience instability in their housing tenure.

Stigmas associated with affordable housing can lead to a wider lack of empathy for those in need, and a reluctance to ask for help by those who need it.

The alienation of those with a mental illness or disability can be even worse. This has many implications, not least for planning decisions. A “not in my backyard” mentality of local residents has blocked more than one plan for affordable housing.

Voters not valuing affordable housing

Government at all levels play an active role in Australia’s housing system. Taxation settings, financial regulation, infrastructure development, land use planning, immigration and income support all affect housing outcomes. Likewise, commercial operators, NGO, government and community housing providers are all shaped by the regulatory and policy structures of government (and its many silos).

The fragmentation in policies, providers and services perpetuates the serious gaps in housing provision.

Mental health patients in hospitals and domestic violence victims are unable to leave because their only pathway is homelessness. Desperate families compromise on food, education and health while waiting on social housing availability.

Significant frustrations expressed with government decision-making are at least partly voters’ responsibility. The electorate seems to tolerate perpetual changes of government policies and the inconsistencies in state and Commonwealth government objectives.

Shelter is a key part of our existence. Yet a lack of wider public awareness about the role affordable housing plays in both society and the economy means voters don’t rate it as a priority. Until they do, governments are unlikely to make it a priority, either.

Author: Fiona McKenzie, Co-Founder and Director of Strategy, Australian Futures Project, La Trobe University

Housing affordability deteriorated further over the March 2017 quarter

From Core Logic.

With dwelling values rising at a faster pace than household incomes, housing affordability has worsened over the first quarter of 2017.  CoreLogic measures housing affordability across four measures and three of these four measures have seen affordability deteriorate over the quarter.

The four affordability measures that CoreLogic calculate are:

  1. Dwelling price to household income ratio – essentially how many years of gross annual household income are required to purchase a property outright
  2. Years to save a deposit – how many years of gross annual household income are required for a 20% deposit
  3. Serviceability – calculating mortgage repayments on an 80% loan to value ratio (LVR) mortgage utilising the standard variable mortgage rate and a 25 year mortgage, what proportion of gross annual household income is required to service a mortgage
  4. Dwelling rent to household income – the proportion of gross annual household income required to pay the rent

The measures we look at utilise median household incomes which have been modeled by the Australian National University (ANU).

As at March 2017, the national price to income ratio was recorded at 7.3 compared to 7.2 a year earlier, 6.4 five years earlier and 6.1 a decade ago.  Looking at houses and units, the ratios were recorded at 7.4 and 6.7 respectively at March 2017.

It would have taken 1.5 years of gross annual household income for a deposit nationally at the end of the March 2017 quarter.  This is compared to 1.4 years a year earlier, 1.3 years five years ago and 1.2 years a decade ago.  If saving for a house it would take 1.5 years of the median household income for a deposit compared to 1.3 years of income for a unit.

The calculation of the proportion of household income required to service a mortgage is very sensitive to mortgage rates.  At the end of March 2017, the discounted variable mortgage rate for owner occupiers was 4.55% and a mortgage required 38.9% of a household’s income.  A year earlier mortgage rates were 4.85% and the mortgage used 39.6% of the household income.  Five years ago, mortgage rates were 6.7% and a decade ago they were 7.45% and households required 42.2% and 42.8% of their household income respectively to service a mortgage.  Further to this you can see that the proportion of household income required to service a mortgage peaked at 51.0% in June 2008 when mortgage rates were 8.85%.  Houses currently require 39.39% of a household’s income to service a mortgage compared to units requiring 36.0%.

The final affordability measure looks at the alternative to taking out a mortgage, renting, looking at the rent to income ratio.  The rent to income ratio has been more stable compared with measures related to purchasing a home or servicing a mortgage, as it is more limited by growth in household incomes.  In March 2017, the ratio was recorded at 29.6% compared to 30.4% a year earlier, 29.1% five years earlier and 25.8% a decade ago.  At the end of March 2017 the ratio was recorded at 29.6% for houses and units.

The above table highlights each of the four housing affordability measures across the Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSA) regions as at March 2017.  Capital cities are generally more expensive across all measures than regional markets despite household incomes generally being higher in capital cities.  Sydney is the least affordable housing market across most measures.  Sydney’s price to income ratio is significantly higher than all other regions analysed.  Furthermore, the serviceability calculation shows that despite mortgage rates being at close to historic low levels, a Sydney property owner is utilising 45% of their household income to service their mortgage.

This data provides a snapshot of how housing affordability is tracking across the country, and it highlights how in Sydney and Melbourne in particular it is deteriorating as dwelling values have risen over recent years. Another important point to note is that lower mortgage rates make servicing debt easier however, it doesn’t make it easier to overcome the deposit hurdle, particularly given fairly sluggish household income growth over recent years.  The data also suggests that servicing a mortgage remains more expensive than paying for rental accommodation although the gap has narrowed as interest rates have fallen.

It is important to look at a range of housing affordability measures and analyse them over time to get a true understanding of the housing affordability challenges.  Over recent years affordability on a price to income and saving for a deposit basis has deteriorated in Sydney and Melbourne however it is relatively unchanged or slightly improved in most other capital cities.  On the other hand, as mortgage rates have fallen servicing a mortgage has required a lower proportion of household income which in turn has allowed some owners to reinvest or increase their spending elsewhere.

NSW gov’t unveils housing affordability measures

From Australian Broker.

The NSW Government has announced it will spend more than $720m over the next four years to address the key issue of housing affordability.

“Our number one priority as a government is to get more houses built and to market to help make new homes more affordable,” Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts said.

“We are working on many fronts to make owning a home a reality for more people, by streamlining and simplifying the planning system so housing approvals can be fast-tracked and are continuing to release and rezone more land.”

The 2017-18 NSW Budget includes $117.8m over four years of new investment to deliver infrastructure, housing and employment initiatives, review land use and infrastructure strategies for priority growth areas and implement regional plans.

In addition there are address housing affordability by expanding Priority Precincts and Priority Growth Areas to deliver around 30,000 additional dwellings, and to support the reform of Infrastructure Contributions, to:

  • Develop framework plans for priority precincts and growth areas
  • Review and develop proposals to update planning legislation
  • Implement the State Environmental Planning Policy review
  • Develop a framework for applying statutory strategic planning to non-metropolitan areas
  • Develop more effective conditions of consent that are better integrated with environmental protection and other licences
  • Develop a strategic policy framework for social and affordable housing in key locations
  • Develop and implement Windfarm Assessment Guidelines and Social Impact Guidelines
  • Develop a framework for managing land use conflicts in regional areas

Roberts said that reforms to financial contributions by developers towards new developments would further support the provision of local infrastructure and speed up the delivery of housing.

Other Budget initiatives include:

  • $14.4m ($40m over four years) of new investment to address housing affordability
  • $12.5m ($70.6m over four years) of new spending to accelerate major project assessments; support Joint Regional and Sydney Planning Panels operations across NSW; deliver high quality, timely assessments and post-approval activities for major projects; improve environmental impact assessment; support planning system mergers across local government and drive regional growth and improve environmental outcomes

“This Government is committed to making housing in NSW more affordable for everyone and this is a responsible and well-targeted budget that will do just that,” Roberts said.

Avocados and housing affordability? It’s a green herring

From The New Daily.

Avocados are in the news again, which must mean housing affordability is too. This time it was wunderkind property developer Tim Gurner who told 60 Minutes that millennials “buying smashed avocado for 19 bucks and … coffees at $4 each” shouldn’t be complaining about the difficulty of getting into the property market.

But blaming young people for eating pricey avo brunch doesn’t shed any light on housing affordability. It’s just a green herring.

Mr Gurner is probably right that a lot of young people are happy to live a life of brunch and overseas travel. But these are unlikely to be the same Australians who feel locked out of the housing market. They either can afford to buy a home, or are happy renting or living with their parents while they enjoy their 20s. And good on them.

The real problem is that the real estate market roundly cheered for decades has turned out to be a Ponzi scheme of sorts. Rapidly and consistently rising real estate values enhanced the wealth of many Australians, but the rest have been stranded.

Rising prices have been a staple barbecue and dinner party topic of conversation since the heady 1980s. It was a decade of financial deregulation, easy access to home lending and a bullish sense of prosperity. Economic reform had transformed the ‘Great Australian Dream’ into the ‘Great Australian Wealth Machine’.

A report by property analyst CoreLogic shows that in the five years to 2016 the proportion of household income required for a 20 per cent deposit on a home climbed from 85.9 to 138.9 per cent. This at a time of static wage growth, adding to the difficulty of raising a home deposit. In the five years to 2016, national dwelling prices rose by 19 per cent while household incomes rose by just 9.2 per cent.

Australia remains a nation of homeowners, but the Great Australian Dream is under pressure. Nationally, according to the Melbourne Institute, 68.8 per cent of households were owner-occupied in 2001; by 2014 this had fallen to 64.9 per cent. The impact of investors on the housing market is also clear. According to the Bureau of Statistics, at the close of 2016, investors comprised 47 per cent of national mortgage demand – 55 per cent in NSW.

For those who do feel unable to realise their dream of home ownership, avocados aren’t the problem. They’re locked out because of inflated property values, poor wages growth, the impact on supply of a rapidly rising population, and people like Tim Gurner whose wealth depends on stoking the market.

Sadly, it’s difficult to assume there is a ready solution out there just waiting to be discovered.

Public policy does have a role to play in addressing housing affordability, but how far can policy go in solving a problem which at its root is down to market forces?

Treasurer Scott Morrison was irresponsible when he flagged that housing affordability was going to be the centrepiece of his budget. Once again, the Turnbull government set expectations it was unable to meet.

The Budget’s ‘ta-da’ contribution to easing the burden for first homebuyers was the “first home super saver scheme” which will allow first-home buyers to make voluntary contributions of up to $30,000 to their superannuation which will be made available for a home deposit at concessional tax rates.

University of NSW economics professor Richard Holden says the measure will do “absolutely nothing to help first home owners”, arguing, as many others have, that the subsidy will actually force home prices higher.

“It’s bad economics, somewhat costly and a cruel hoax on prospective home buyers who are struggling with an out-of-control housing market,” he wrote in The Conversation.

The key to addressing housing affordability is not policy sophistry whose only purpose is to give the impression of action. A more nuanced understanding of Australia’s housing market, in the context of a rapidly changing economy, is required before meaningful policy settings can be made. Housing affordability also needs to be understood in the context of a rapidly growing population.

We need fewer policy stunts from the government and a more considered vision for Australia in the 21st century. It may well be time for the Great Australian Dream to be updated. The Great Australian Dream 2.0.

The human face of Australia’s housing crisis

From The New Daily.

Chris Radford and Michelle Apostolopoulos are high school sweethearts. They met and fell in love at Northcote public school, which sits on the same main road that runs near both their parents’ fully paid off houses.

They both rent in Melbourne and are fast approaching the age their parents married, bought houses and started families. Repeating that feat in today’s market seems impossible.

Chris, 24, has spent the last six years of his life stacking shelves in a trendy inner-city supermarket, so he knows the price of avocados – that symbol of millennial decadence that is supposedly holding him back from property ownership.

“Four bucks, five bucks each. Yeah, I know how much they cost,” he says. “I don’t eat a lot of avocado to begin with.”

The couple, who plan to marry soon, are exactly who Treasurer Scott Morrison’s latest federal budget was supposed to help: hard-working, hard-saving Australians who want nothing more than a modest home to call their own.

Unlike their parents’ generation, the ‘Australian Dream’ seems to be getting further out of reach, what with rising prices, penalty rate cuts and record-low wage growth.

Chris pays $110 a week for a room in a house he shares with two friends in the Melbourne suburb of Moonee Ponds. When it rains, water drips through the ceiling into a strategically placed pot.

The house will soon be knocked down for apartments, so the landlord has given up on the place.

When his parents bought their house in Thornbury for $80,000 back in 1991 it was not much of a stretch for two people in their mid-20s. It is now worth at least $1 million, probably more.

Because of this enormous increase in value, buying even a more modest house today requires vastly more effort. Chris and Michelle, 23, estimate that a median-priced Melbourne home will require them to save a 20 per cent deposit of $150,000.

Even if they were to save every dollar they earn, it would still take them years to build that much – and that’s without taking price growth into account.

“It’s so unfair, two people should be able to save enough in a few years for a house!” Michelle says.

“Even if we saved hard I know we wouldn’t be able to afford within 32 kilometres of here.”

Part of the reason that saving is so hard for the couple is the new round of attacks on their pay.

Chris has worked his supermarket job all through high school and now into university. He works Sundays and has for years. He also works unpaid at an internship as part of his university degree, which requires him to work full-time on top of his part-time work.

This leaves him relying heavily on weekend penalty rates — which he’ll lose come July 1 because of a recent decision by the Fair Work Commission.

“If I didn’t have to work on Sunday, I wouldn’t,” he says.

Michelle, too, regularly works weekends. But because she works for one of Australia’s two main supermarkets, she’ll be lucky enough to keep her penalty rates.

“People who work weekends miss out on seeing family and friends,” she says.

“You deserve [penalty rates], you’ve busted your arse all weekend.”

They’re both disappointed the government didn’t do more in the budget to make things easier for low-paid workers and aspiring property buyers like themselves. Treasurer Morrison’s plan to allow first home buyers to tip up to $30,000 into their superannuation doesn’t excite them.

“When you really look at the details it starts looking practically impossible,” Michelle says.

“The government isn’t doing anything to make it easier to buy a house.”

To make matters even worse, with the university debt repayment threshold dropping, Chris and Michelle will both have to pay back more to the government each year.

“A lot of people think you’re not working hard enough if you can’t save a deposit. They just pick on young people because we can’t do anything about it,” she says.

“What are you supposed to do? Store everything in a cardboard box, then live in the cardboard box too?”

Bowen pledges to block ScoMo’s main housing measure

From The New Daily.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has slammed as “highly objectionable” the Turnbull government’s budget measure to allow young Australians to save for a deposit inside their super funds.

In his budget reply speech on Wednesday, Mr Bowen said most of the measures in the government’s “sham” affordability package were “ineffective”, but he took issue with what has been dubbed the ‘First Home Super Saver Scheme‘.

He confirmed Labor would vote against the “badly designed and ill thought out” proposal if and when it comes before Parliament.

Mr Bowen’s primary concern seemed to be that extra contributions from mortgage savers would be lumped together with compulsory contributions from employers.

“How voluntary contributions will be kept separate from compulsory contributions in the event of a downturn, where balances can contract, is beyond me. They can’t be.”

The budget papers say the scheme will allow first home buyers to salary sacrifice up to $15,000 a year, up to a maximum balance of $30,000, with a tax on contributions and earnings of only 15 per cent. When withdrawing the money to pay for a deposit, the lump sum will be counted as personal taxable income, but the tax rate on the money will be discounted by 30 percentage points.

The government has promised that whatever money a would-be home buyer salary sacrifices into super would be quarantined from losses. The Shadow Treasurer seemed to doubt this is even possible, let alone prudent.

Industry Super Australia has warned the scheme will hurt returns by requiring funds to “maintain more liquid asset allocations to deal with unpredictable withdrawals”. This means funds may have to invest more in cash and short-maturity securities, which carry lower returns.

Mr Bowen also said the scheme would breach the very same ‘sole purpose’ test the government is trying to legislate, which would clarify that super savings are intended to provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the age pension.

whole idea of an objective is to have a benchmark against which changes to superannuation can be judged. Yet the government’s first proposed legislative change since announcing their preferred objective would undermine the goal of providing income in retirement.”

The Shadow Treasurer also disputed that super saver accounts would do anything to boost affordability.

“We know the government dabbled with all sorts of harebrained ideas to allow access to superannuation. The eventual model they settled on, allowing voluntary contributions to be withdrawn by first home buyers, will not make a difference for the vast majority of first home buyers,” he said.

“Without negative gearing and supply side reform, if it has any impact at all, it will simply drive up house prices. It is badly designed and ill thought out.”

Mr Bowen also ridiculed the government’s optimistic predictions for almost doubled wage growth by 2020-21, after the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that wages have continued to stagnate.

Budget 2017 charts new social and affordable housing agenda

From The Conversation.

Under pressure to tackle deepening housing affordability problems, Treasurer Scott Morrison has included various housing policy measures in his budget, some relating to Australia’s small sector of social and affordable housing.

One headline-grabber is the creation of a new entity, the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC). This will source private funds for on-lending to affordable housing providers to finance rental housing development. However, the bigger issue for the sector remains federal and state funding.

This public funding is the money that, along with tenants’ rents, co-funds state and territory housing and homelessness services. Here too Morrison is proposing reform, particularly to the primary federal-state funding arrangement for social and affordable housing, the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA).

A couple of months ago we suggested the NAHA needed a reboot. Recognising the seriously run-down state of the system, we argued for an increase in funding from its present starvation level. Morrison now proposes a new federal-state funding agreement, the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA).

The level of federal funding will be the same as under the old NAHA. But the Commonwealth will press states and territories for action in defined “priority areas”. In effect, this looks like a return to a Canberra-led reform agenda for social and affordable housing unseen since the early Rudd government.

Setting aggregate supply targets

In what appears a significant passage, the budget papers reveal the government’s “priority areas” for the NHHA. We’ll consider these in turn, and then the recurring issue of inadequate funding.

Lack of transparency on the costs incurred by state and territory housing authorities in operating their social housing portfolios has been a particular problem under the NAHA. This is an area where federal engagement is welcome.

All levels of government should be pressed to quantify the level and type of need for housing in the community. And they should be made to set clear “new supply” targets for meeting that need.

That said, the federal government should stop pretending to be shocked at the lack of new social housing delivered by those authorities under the NAHA. The shortfall in NAHA funding has been obvious for years. It simply is too low to bridge the gap between the rents low-income public housing tenants can afford to pay and the costs of properly maintaining the system, let alone growing it to keep pace with rising need.

Residential land development

The stress laid on this issue within the budget policy statement reflects the federal government’s stated concern about “the supply side” of the housing affordability problem. It has framed state government planning controls as an impediment to new housing development.

However, merely loosening requirements and offering existing land owners the prospect of greater development does not ensure it will actually happen.

To ensure land owners don’t just sit on development opportunities speculatively, the federal government should use its NHHA leverage. This could include pushing the states and territories to make greater use of land tax, which would spur development and bring under-utilised land and housing to market.

Inclusionary zoning

Inclusionary zoning is a specific type of planning mechanism. It requires housing developments (above a certain size) to include some proportion of dedicated affordable housing. Ideally, this should be rental housing preserved as “affordable” in perpetuity.

Inclusionary zoning is long established in other countries and has long been demanded by housing advocates in Australia. It is now the subject of increasing interest from planning authorities – for example, the Greater Sydney Commission.

The co-financing arrangements for the NHFIC could incorporate active use of land-use planning powers for inclusionary zoning. Development sites – or developer levy proceeds – could be part of state and territory contributions to funding affordable housing development.

A commitment to build into the NHHA incentives for stepped-up use of inclusionary zoning by state governments is, therefore, very welcome.

However, the budget papers indicate that state compliance with this NHHA expectation might involve not only housing dedicated to affordable rental housing, but also “dedicated first home buyer stock”. This seems to raise the prospect of developers meeting inclusionary zoning requirements simply by reserving some newly built units for first home buyers rather than investors.

The best way to enhance first home buyer prospects vis a vis investor landlords would be to level the playing field by winding back investor negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions, not through this kind of tinkering. And to cast such “FHB reservation” initiatives as in any way equivalent to inclusionary zoning for affordable rental housing would be a highly retrograde step.

Renewing affordable housing stock

An interesting inclusion in the proposed terms of the NHHA is a clause about renewing affordable housing stock.

First, it appears positive in acknowledging the need for a public housing overhaul and indicating a new level of federal government interest in making this happen.

At a minimum, states and territories should be required to undertake a comprehensive audit of their existing portfolios. The level of outstanding disrepair has to be costed. They also should identify where renewal can best take place, balancing need for expanded and upgraded housing with sensitive treatment of existing communities.

Second, it indicates federal backing for further transfers of public housing as a growth path for the affordable housing industry. However, as our recent research for AHURI shows, this is feasible only if the operating cost gap is funded.

Past community housing growth through transfers, particularly following the 2009 housing ministers’ commitment to expand community housing to 35% of all social housing, involved an understanding that Commonwealth Rent Assistance, paid through Centrelink to transferred tenants, would help cover that gap.

Without additional funding in the NHHA, a new phase of growth through transfers requires a recommitment by governments to use rent assistance as an effective operational subsidy to community housing providers. A new target and timeframe to replace the 35% benchmark also need to be considered.

Homelessness services

Previously the subject of a separate funding agreement (the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness), homelessness services have struggled for years in the face of that agreement’s pending expiry and short-term extensions.

The NHHA will fund homelessness services on an ongoing basis, which the sector has welcomed.

Funding shortfall remains

As we’ve indicated throughout, the objectives of the NHHA – and of the social and affordable housing system generally – will continue to run up against the reality that decent housing of this kind costs more than low-income households can afford to pay.

This applies especially to people living on the miserable level of benefits such as Newstart. A subsidy is required, both to build up the stock and to keep it in good order.

Clearer targets, more transparent cost accounting, and innovations like NHFIC finance won’t bridge the gap. On the contrary, to successfully use those initiatives to build more stock, both state and territory housing authorities and non-government affordable housing providers need a larger subsidy than present funding provides.

The budget has indexed NHHA funding to wages. It would be nice to think that land and housing prices will increase only in line with wages.

In reality, properly funding the growth and maintenance of our social and affordable housing stock will require more than what the federal government is offering.

Authors: Chris Martin, Research Fellow, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW; Hal Pawson, Associate Director – City Futures – Urban Policy and Strategy, City Futures Research Centre, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW

Tiny houses: the big idea that could take some heat out of the housing crisis

From The Conversation.

If you could have a new home, exactly to your specification for about a year’s average salary wouldn’t you take it? Many people, in the US, UK and Europe want to find an alternative housing solution that is cheap and mortgage free but also ecologically sustainable. The solution may be to build so-called “tiny houses” – very small dwellings, often built on trailers, that make the most of unused, unwanted or free sites in the city or country.

The tiny house is, indeed, tiny. It comes in at less than 25 square metres, but is able to provide comfort and security at minimum cost. These are primarily wooden buildings and can be bought ready-to-use or can be assembled by their future occupant. For as little as £15,000, you can buy a kit, or for up to £50,000 you can get a fully assembled and fitted-out home for two.

Because of their size they can be built on a steel-framed base similar to a trailer or caravan, meaning they can be mobile and therefore capable of use on temporary sites. They are usually single-space dwellings, sometimes with an open loft for sleeping reached by a ladder or steep stair with a shower room below. Most people would choose to set up a permanent or temporary connection to conventional services, but you can also go “off-grid” with solar panels, wood burners, and bottled gas for energy needs and chemical toilets or outhouses for sanitation.

Cutting back

There are now so many tiny house enthusiasts that it can justifiably be described as a movement, with online forums for practised and aspiring builders to share ideas and experiences. These houses are both cute and eccentric. Perhaps they tap into a common aspiration that people had as children to build a fort, a tree house, or a den. However, they also meet the deep human need to find a home that is just right for us. For those who have built their own Tiny House there is a special sense of connection to something made by their own hand, tuned to their own needs, even if they have used other people’s plans and commercially available components.

Tiny house advocates are attracted for both practical and cultural reasons. Although the idea of sorting out your main living expense for the price of a family car is undoubtedly a key motivation, it is also about empowerment of the individual to step outside the corporate idea that “bigger and more expensive is better”. Tiny house owners no longer aspire to an island kitchen unit or a wide screen TV in the basement, and it’s fair to say that buying stuff slows right down when you have nowhere to put it.

It is also about environmental responsibility and sustainable living. These buildings, simply because of their size, use considerably less energy both in their construction and running costs. The inclusion of other simple efficiencies such as LED lighting, super-insulation, and water reclamation simultaneously boosts ecological credibility and lowers monthly bills.

A sustainable life

We might think that this sort of living stems from ultra-modern, post-capitalist thinking, but in truth, it isn’t a new concept. The historic roots of the tiny house movement are in the traditional buildings that 17th-century settlers first built when homesteading North America and before that in earlier European rural precedents. These were simple, often one room buildings, built on minimal stone foundations and made from local timber hewn to shape.

The modern versions are often built to the same or better construction standard as full size houses, but contemporary American tiny house owners relate to the early settlers’ way of life using minimal resources, and to Henry David Thoreau’s book Waldon: A Life in the Woods, an important and influential record of the author’s experiment to live a sustainable life.

However, there are hurdles to overcome in tiny house living. A major issue is identifying suitable and available sites. In both Europe and North America planning legislation is clearly aimed at conventional buildings with expensive, long-term connections to services such as water supply, drainage, electricity and gas. Obtaining permission to set up a tiny house in an urban area close to employment and resources isn’t easy.

In the UK, the problem can be even more difficult with planning permission hard to obtain unless the building type meets recognised size, type and materials guidelines. The mobility aspect of many tiny houses can be a bonus here as in theory it enables owners to take advantage of temporary sites with the capacity to relocate when permission expires, or their requirements change.

The crucial question, of course, is whether the tiny house helps solve the larger housing problem in the UK, where housing charity Shelter estimates 250,000 dwellings are needed each year. It is a possibility if planning restrictions on dwelling size and typology can be relaxed and construction companies are willing to take on such low cost work on the small sites these buildings can utilise. However, a fundamental problem of providing any affordable accommodation in property hotpots would also need to be addressed by government legislation, ensuring these desirable little residences were only occupied by their owners and not gobbled up by absentee investors.

Author: Robert Kronenburg, Roscoe Professor of Architecture, University of Liverpool

Budget 2017: government still [just] tinkering with housing affordability

From The Conversation.

It’s unsurprising that in the lead-up to this year’s federal budget there was a lot of discussion about housing affordability as its centrepiece. Over the past 20 years price-to-income and price-to-rent ratios have doubled. Sydney’s price-to-income ratio is over 12, making it the second-least-affordable city in the world. Melbourne is in fourth place.

And in a budget tableau as bland as this one, it wouldn’t have taken much to really play up the housing affordability policies.

Yet the measures in this budget involve not much more than tinkering.

On the minus side, the biggest announcement was a “first home super saver scheme”, which would allow voluntary contributions of A$15,000 per annum and A$30,000 in total (per person if in a couple) to superannuation for prospective first home buyers from July 2017. These could be withdrawn and taxed at 30 percentage points below the normal marginal rate and used for a deposit.

This will cost the government A$250 million over four years and do absolutely nothing to help first home owners. We have seen this movie before, with 50 years of first home owner grants in one form or another. All that happens is that this subsidy goes into the price of existing housing. Sellers benefit, buyers get no joy.

It’s bad economics, somewhat costly, and a cruel hoax on prospective home buyers who are struggling with an out-of-control housing market.

But the biggest minus of all was the absence of any measure whatsoever to address negative gearing and CGT exemptions for rental properties. Sorry, there is one: you now won’t able to deduct an airfare to the Gold Coast to “inspect” your rental property. The government has boxed itself in on this, with Labor having taken a plan to the last election to tackle both of these issues (full disclosure, the Labor plan bears a good deal of resemblance to my McKell Institute plan).

Nonetheless, it is reflective of the state of our politics that the one thing that could really help the most (and which the PM has agreed with very publicly in the past) is off the table.

But the measures aren’t all bad. On the plus side, there were incentives for people over 65 to downsize by allowing A$300,000 of the proceeds of a sale of their main residence to go into their superannuation, above the controversial A$1.6 million cap announced in last year’s budget.

Will the budget encourage older Australians to downsize? Maybe. One measure of how powerful an incentive it will be is that it costs only A$30 million over the four-year forward estimates period. This is not a big government spend.

It’s also unclear whether it will be a large enough financial incentive to overcome the emotional and psychological barriers to moving from the family home after many years in it. There was also a conspicuous absence of reforms to stamp duty, which is a major impediment to downsizing.

There was also good news on affordable housing with the establishment of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC). It will provide A$63.1 million over four years to operate a so-called “bond aggregator” that aims to provide cheaper financing for community housing providers. This is a good idea that should have a positive effect, and help address the high cost of funds that often plagues financing of housing for low-income earners.

Consistent with the recent populist policy announcements by this government, foreign purchasers of Australian properties were targeted in this budget. There will no longer be a capital gains tax (CGT) exemption for primary residences of foreign and temporary tax residents, and the grandfathering will only last until June 30 2019. There will also be a lower threshold for CGT withholding (A$750,000, down from A$2 million) on foreign tax residents, and the rate will be increased from 10% to 12.5%.

There were some wishy-washy words about the crucial issue of housing supply. The government has definitely identified the key role that supply plays. They are proposing a variety of “city deals” to provide incentives for zoning reform — especially in western Sydney. That’s all good, but whether it is anything more than the budget-summary feel-good headline – “Working with the states to deliver planning and zoning reform” – remains to be seen.

There was also the announcement of a tax on foreign owners who leave their properties vacant. This is supposed to raise A$16.3 million over four years — which is a rounding error in the scheme of things.

We had a housing affordability crisis before this budget, and we will have one after it. If the first step to recovery is acknowledging that one has a problem, then the government is still on step one.

Author: Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW