Friday, February 10, 2017

NAHA is dead? Long live public housing!

Alarming reports have emerged today that the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) could be axed in the next federal budget.

The NAHA is the current iteration of a long running agreement between the federal and state & territory governments about the provision of public and social housing in Australia. The first iteration was the 1945 Commonwealth State Housing Agreement, and while public housing has copped a few knocks in the meantime, the scrapping of NAHA could mean the death of public housing as we know it.

The National Housing Affordability Agreement, which has cost the Federal Government almost $9 billion since it was launched in 2009 by the Rudd Government, will be axed in the May budget, The Australian reports. 
Instead of the public housing stock rising since the agreement was launched, figures released in the 2017 Report on Government Services last month show the supply has actually gone backwards by 16,000 homes. 
And 20 per cent of the existing housing stock was now considered in an unacceptable state, while 8 per cent was uninhabitable.
None of this will come as news to those who keep an eye on such things - in fact, we've been making noise about both of these issues for what seems like an eternity (see here and here, for example). But axing the agreement is not the way to fix these problems - getting a better agreement is.

A key problem for the NAHA is that it altered the way federal and state & territory governments share responsibilities for funding the supply and maintenance of public and social housing. Times were those costs were shared - specifically, state & territory governments were required to match federal funds dollar for dollar. But the NAHA let the states and territories off the hook, on the basis that the emerging not-for-profit landlords - the Community Housing sector - could take on a greater role in delivering these services while tapping other sources of revenue.

For the record: we've always agreed that they could, but not at the expense of continued investment in social and affordable housing by all levels of government. It stands to reason, then, that our support of any new "bond aggregator" model that is currently being considered by the Turnbull Government would be similarly qualified.

National Shelter has issued the following media release, along similar lines:
National Affordable Housing Agreement Essential 
Reports to axe the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) reported in and the Australian today have been met with shocked disbelief by National Shelter the peak affordable housing body. 
“If true this will be an act of vandalism by the commonwealth against a vital essential funding program which supports the most vulnerable including funding two thirds of all the homelessness services in Australia.” 
“The NAHA wasn’t well conceived and has not been well managed but axing the only funding for public housing and homelessness services without discussion, consultation or any alternative plan amounts to vandalism against many of the most vulnerable in our community”, said Adrian Pisarski National Shelter Executive Officer. 
The NAHA funds the maintenance of our social housing system as well as homelessness services provision and this looks like the Commonwealth is abandoning the field by removing essential funding for social housing and homelessness services. 
“At a time when rough sleeping is rampant in our cities and housing affordability a daily headline this is not the time for the Commonwealth to cut and run.” Mr Pisarski said. 
“National Shelter has been critical of the performance of the NAHA and plead with the Commonwealth and States to address issues of, sufficiency, transparency, accountability and performance but ditching it is not the answer”, Mr Pisarski added. 
“We need a national plan which supports social housing, homelessness and addresses housing affordability more generally thru attracting private and public investment and broader reforms of planning, taxation and tenant rights at state levels. This is not an either or situation, we need every tool at our disposal, including a reformed NAHA.” 
The Commonwealth needs to negotiate these reforms with State Governments and the community sector not abandon the field. National Shelter remains available to advise all parties on reforms to housing and homelessness.

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