Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Where do the parties stand on housing: part 4 - The Greens

While we were making up housing policies for Labor and the Liberals, because neither had announced their own, another political party launched not just a housing policy, but also a 'Better Deal for Renters' too.

Here we take a look at the housing policy of The Greens.

Social housing
The Greens propose substantial new investment in social housing, to arrest the vicious circle of its present decline, and build 122 000 new dwellings over the new 10 years – equivalent to half the number of households currently on waiting lists around the country.

Because – let's face it – the Greens won't be forming government next week, one might object that the Greens can promise new housing as much as they like, because they'll not have to find the money for it. But what makes this promise worthy of attention is the innovative financing mechanism proposed: a suite of Affordable Housing Supply Bonds that would appeal variously to institutional investors – notoriously absent from rental housing investment in Australia – and 'retail' investors – the so-called 'mums and dads' who have run rampant over the rental market, leaving inflation, debt and insecurity in their wake. Any means of turning their resources instead to the production of new, affordable, secure social housing deserves consideration.

Affordable rental
To support other forms of affordable rental, the Greens are proposing an extension of the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS), and some specific-purpose programs: a special Uni-NRAS for affordable student accommodation, and grants to enable vacant buildings – the real under-occupancy problem – to be converted to affordable rental housing.

Tax reform
The Greens propose cutting the capital gains tax discount rate from 50 per cent to 40 cent, as recommended by the Henry Review. This is one way of reducing the fatal attractiveness of negative gearing, so would not just increase government revenue, but also reduce distortion in the rental market too. We suggest that while they're at it, the Greens should consider land tax reform too – also recommended by the Henry Review.

The 'Better Deal for Renters'
In addition to their proposals for social housing and affordable housing, the Greens' 'Better Deal for Renters' comprises three elements.

The first is the establishment of a new national body to implement a new National Standard for Rental Housing. Matters for consideration in the Standard would include:
  • improved security of tenure;
  • stability and fairness of rents;
  • a new efficiency standard for rental dwellings;
  • standards as to the state of repair and physical security (ie locks, etc) of a dwelling; and 
  • better legislative protection of vulnerable marginal renters.
The Greens don't go as far as specifying exactly what needs to be done in each in relation to each of these matters – that would be for the national body to advise, and it might itself come up with some other matters to advise on. As for the nature of the national body, the Greens indicate that it might be constituted like the National Dialogue on Universal Housing Design. This sort of industry and consumer stakeholder forum would be a welcome development, and probably be especially useful in advising on the efficiency standard, but we wonder how it would deal with the more contentious matters, particularly legal security of tenure and rents – it may be necessary for legislators to take the lead here. As for how the National Standard could be implemented – that is, by the Federal Government in areas that are usually the responsibility of States – the Greens propose using the processes of COAG and attaching some strings to Commonwealth funds. Fair enough.

The second element is actually a better deal for landlords too: a grant to help cover the cost of efficiency improvements required by the anticipated National Standard.

And the third element is additional funding for tenants' advocacy services. Declaration of interest: the Tenants' Union of NSW is, of course, one of those advocacy services. But the case for increased funding is strong, especially in Queensland, where the State Government still refuses to fund tenants advice and advocacy services there, and in New South Wales too, where TAASs do an extraordinary job on a budget that still set as if we're working in the rental market circa 2002.  

Well done to the Greens. We'd congratulate them for no other reason than their effort to get the hugely important matter of housing on the campaign agenda – but more than that, many of the measures they propose stack up as sound policy too. These are policies worth your consideration on election day – and worth consideration by whichever party forms government thereafter.

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