Monday, March 23, 2015

NSW Labor on housing

We continue our look at parties' housing policies; this time, we're looking at NSW Labor's just-released '10 point plan to address the housing affordability crisis'.

Amongst other things, Labor has committed to boost social housing by making available $100 million in nil-interest loans to community housing providers. It has also proposed to elevate housing policy-making, by having a designated Minister for Housing, a Premier's Council for Affordable Housing, and 'comprehensive 10-year plan for affordable housing across New South Wales'.

The work of the Premier's Council for Affordable Housing will include:
  • examining the prospect of shared equity schemes, to be delivered by community housing providers and targeted to 'key workers', such as police, teachers and nurses; 
  • establishing 'Future Home Partnerships' between the NSW Land and Housing Corporation, NSW Urban Growth, community housing and local governments, to better get urban renewal for new housing going; and
  • looking at housing design, including 'reinventing and reintroducing the Sydney Terrace House and the California Bungalow' as part of a medium-density urban form. 
We say: aside from the substantial proposals it makes, they are some very welcome aspects to the way Labor has approached its housing policy: it recognises that decent housing is a fundamental right; it reclaims some pride in the historic record of Labor Governments that built a lot of affordable housing (as public housing, much of it later sold to tenants); it calls the crisis in housing affordability what it is – a crisis; and it acknowledges that stress is felt across the tenures, including private rental.

Labor proposes to address the crisis on a number of fronts, which is generally the right approach to multi-faceted problem like unaffordable housing, but we don't think it has always addressed the right fronts. In particular, none of the 10 points in the policy is directed at speculation in housing. Using our tax system to discourage speculation through a broad-based land tax – or even Vendor Duty, as The Greens propose – would do more good for affordability than designing smaller houses and blocks.

Labor's $100 million boost to community housing is smaller than that indicated by the Coalition ('up to $1 billion', contingent on electricity privatisation) and much smaller than that proposed by The Greens ($4.5 billion, financed by borrowing and increased tax revenue). Looking at the modelling commissioned by Shelter NSW as to what it will cost to get some growth in the social housing sector in New South Wales, most scenarios would require a greater subsidy than that proposed now by Labor.

It is also disappointing that Labor's 10-point plan does not include any commitments to tenancy law reform. Aside from the acknowledgement of affordability problems in the sector, private rental remains something of a blind spot in Labor's policy.

But even if it doesn't have all the answers we'd like to see, it is significant that Labor has put forward a housing policy framed around the crisis in affordability, and that's welcome.

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