Housing as an issue has many component
parts. A lot of attention in recent times has been given to the issue of
homelessness and while this is most appropriate, it is only one part of
the total picture. The adequacy of public housing, the provision of
community housing, issues related to boarding houses, both licensed and
not licensed, protection for private renters, adequacy of rent assistance,
affordable housing measures, and many more issues go to make up the total
picture in regard to housing policy.
Like many social issues, housing is a complex issue and dealing with
housing policy needs a range of responses. Getting the public housing
waiting list in NSW down from its current high level, approaching 100,000
households, could in theory be solved by the Department of Housing
engaging in a massive building campaign, but more likely it will be
addressed more effectively by a range of responses.
I notice that in most discussions of this issue, the community sector's
response to the high levels of housing distress is to argue the need for
more resources, while at the same time government officers will argue the
need for more co-ordination and better planning and more efficient use of
existing resources. I think that both approaches are valid and both need
to be applied at the same time. While I have said that many policy
responses are required, nevertheless I am the first to say that a major
factor in our finding ourselves in the current situation is that the
Commonwealth State Housing Agreement has been allowed to wither on the
vine for all too long. That occurred during the Hawke-Keating years and
has continued under the Howard Government.
Although I acknowledge that rent assistance has been a counterbalancing
policy to some extent, it remains the case that during a period of high
unemployment and high social need, the resources put into the CSHA have
At the same time the client base of public housing has become
predominantly social security recipients and the plain facts of the matter
are that 25% of social security is not sufficient rental income to
maintain properties, and it isn't even sufficient if rent assistance were
to be included. Thus the limited number of new units being built, where
the Commonwealth often points the finger at the States and implies
administrative inefficiency, is simply because the public housing system
is not self sustaining in regard to recurrent costs.
No where is this more true than in the Sydney market. No one could
build stock today in the Sydney region and expect to maintain that stock
with an income of 25% of social security payments. And, that is not taking
any profit or surplus into account.
Among those who work in the community service sector, it is a well
established fact that unless people have access to affordable and secure
housing, very few other issues in their lives are likely to be addressed.
The affordability of housing is therefore a key component of housing
policy and a key measure for addressing housing need. We are unlikely to
be able to deal with public housing waiting lists, even if there were a
massive injection of funds, if affordability continues to be harder and
harder to achieve and more people are forced onto those lists.
Not surprisingly large numbers of people in the rental market are
paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs. The figure of 30%
comes from the National Housing Strategy which was an initiative of the
Commonwealth Government conducted from 1990 to 1992. That has now become a
well accepted figure. Using it, we find that low income households, which
are households earning below $36,400 p.a. in the private rental market in
Sydney, amount to approximately 90,000 households. For the rest of NSW,
the number is 142,000 making a total of 232,000 low income households in
NSW who are renting in the private rental market and who are paying more
than 30% of their income in rent.
In addition there are some 90,000 or more low income households who are
home purchasers and who are paying more than 30% of their income on
housing. More than half of low income households in the private rental
market fall into their category. And I am using the 1996 Census figures
and I am sure that the situation has not improved but has worsened.
Finding strategies to make more affordable housing available is clearly
an important part of the whole picture. I know that the Churches Community
Housing Project is a part of that. To the extent that those projects make
more affordable housing available, it is an important step. Making church
land or buildings available for housing projects can reduce the overall
cost and so make housing more affordable.
However, of course, many other avenues need to be pursued. Developers
gain massive profits in the wake of Government decisions and Government
spending. We hear, for instance, that the increase in rents in suburbs
around the Olympic site at Homebush Bay is not the result of increases in
rents in existing properties but because many new upmarket developments
have occurred in those areas. This is what the Department of Fair Trading
is telling us in regard to movements in rents.
This is an edited extract from a speech given at the Churches Community Housing Conference on the 29 March, 2000.