Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where's the value in the Australian housing system?

The TU sends N.C. away to the Australian National Housing Conference, figuring that he'll be inspired by Australia's pre-eminent housing policy thinkers, and he comes back more cynical than when he started out! Curse you, Australian housing system!

Well, it has been a tough year for housing policy. Scarcely a word on housing from the two major parties at the election, and no dedicated Minister for Housing in the new Federal Government. A series of interest rate cuts that might have helped finance productive investment have instead stimulated speculators to just throw money at houses (Sydney prices are up by more than 11 per cent for the year, with half of all finance approvals going to landlords). Meanwhile, Prime Minister and de facto Housing Minister Tony Abbott observes:
if there’s a strong market for flats and for houses, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Don’t forget... that if housing prices go up, sure that makes it harder to get into the market, but it also means that everyone who is in the market has a more valuable asset.

Let's get back to basics. This 'more valuable asset': where's the added value? It's the same house, producing the same amount of housing services – shelter – as it did before. 

What are most people going to do with their more valuable asset? Live in it. Some might sell it, but then only go and buy another more valuable asset to live in. Some of those who have more valuable assets than they can live in might sell and spend the proceeds on consumption. Some might double-down their bet and buy another more expensive valuable asset. And those who own a more valuable asset suitable for development – and thereby actually produce more housing – might hang onto their valuable asset and see where these increases in value take them without actually doing anything productive.  

'More value' would be the building of a better mouse trap, or a bionic eye, or a new dwelling, or producing a new or better service – something new or better that adds to the utility and comfort of human beings. 

What we've got now is little more than the swapping about of title certificates, lubricated by debt; meanwhile, there's a bit less of the productive investment that might have produced things capable of paying down our debts, and rather more inequality of access to the product of housing assets, shelter.

If inspiration was needed, perhaps we should have sent N.C. to the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program meeting after all. 

As well as the usual practical stuff (seminars on the rules of evidence, file management best practice, the Aboriginal Housing Office's 'Build and Grow' Strategy, etc), TAAS advocates heard a cracking speech given by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, on housing as a human right. TAAS advocates are human rights workers, said Commissioner Gooda, and he urged them to keep using the law, education and community engagement to advance housing justice. 

We also farewelled sadly the Older Persons Tenancy Service and the Park and Village Service, which were cut by NSW Fair Trading in the present funding round of the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program. There was, however, some consolation in reflecting on the contributions that each of these services have made to justice for individual tenants, law reform for tenants generally, and the immense store of skill and knowledge in the TAAS network.

TAASs solve housing problems and keep people housed – and, by extension, help their participation in work and education, and in family and community life. They provide a truly valuable service.

1 comment:

  1. " It's the same house, producing the same amount of housing services – shelter – as it did before."
    Haha exactly


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