According to the Minister, more than 8 700 public housing properties have two or more spare bedrooms, while 30 000 persons wait on the housing register. 'Such under-utilisation cannot be allowed to continue', Minister Flegg says.
Accordingly, the Minister proposes transferring tenants to smaller properties... or instituting 'voluntary shared housing arrangements'!
Getting people off the waiting list and into social housing is great, but not when it is done by asking those who are on just the next rung of the ladder to wriggle over a bit. It also overlooks the great untapped reservoir of housing that exists in the spare rooms of owner-occupiers.
This is where the greatest 'under-utilisation' happens, as the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows in its Housing Occupancy and Costs survey.
(Source: ABS (2011) 'Housing Occupancy and Costs 2009/10', Table 14. Click on the image for a better view.)
In fact, of all the tenure types, public housing tenants 'under-utilise' their housing the least – even less than private renters. Meanwhile, almost 90 per cent of owner-occupiers without a mortgage, and over 82 per cent of owners with a mortgage, have one or more spare bedrooms.
And of course, there's lots more owner-occupiers than public housing tenants. By our count of the ABS data [that is, the Housing Occupancy rates and the correct households data from the Census], Australia's 5.2 million owner-occupier households have between them not less than 8 million spare bedrooms.
Perhaps Housing Ministers should consider writing to the nation's owner-occupiers and ask them to take in a social housing applicant.
Or, if they prefer, that they contribute a little more money in tax – say, a land tax that applies to land for owner-occupied housing – to fund a social housing system that grows at least in line with demand for it.