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Maybe You Can't Buy A House, But At Least You Have A Home

That's more than many Australians.

02/02/2017 10:04 AM AEDT | Updated 02/02/2017 10:42 AM AEDT
KatarzynaBialasiewicz via Getty Images
"There were 28,000 people homeless in NSW on Census night 2011, a number that is likely to have grown when new figures are released."

As CEO of a charity working to reduce homelessness, I should be glad to hear that of all the issues Premier Gladys Berejiklian could focus on in her first address, she acknowledged one which seriously concerns us, that of housing affordability. It's also positive to see Treasurer Scott Morrison talking about ways of financing increased affordable housing stock through impact investing following his trip to the UK.

But while I welcome the focus, something in both their rhetoric and narrowness disturbs me.

While we welcome Treasurer Morrison's talk of attracting private sector investment to boost the social and affordable housing market, this is just the start in a long list of things that need to be done to ensure those in need can access affordable housing and not be at risk of homelessness. Many of the items on the list, such as taxation settings and utilising the Commonwealth's balance sheet, require Federal Government leadership -- something that has been sadly missing for many years.

But that doesn't let the states or territories off the hook. While it's true that the Federal Government must take leadership on this matter, state governments have many other effective levers at their disposal.

Premier Berejiklian said she wants to make sure that every average, hard-working person in this state can aspire to own their own home. I can't criticise her for that; housing affordability is a hot political issue. But we must ensure any discussions, and hopefully meaningful policy outcomes, tackle the issues at the real crisis end of the market -- where, increasingly, people can't afford to rent, let alone buy.

Many people across Sydney are struggling to get on the housing ladder and I do sympathise with their plight. But there is a far more perilous issue created by the lack of affordable housing to which Premier Berejiklian, and many before her, are turning a blind eye.

There were 28,000 people homeless in NSW on Census night 2011, a number that is likely to have grown when new figures are released. Over a third of people who were homeless in NSW were under the age of 24. Our services see those people every day. The mothers and their children escaping domestic violence, teenagers fleeing violent and abusive homes, older Australians whose pension is not enough to get by in a world of rising rents.

Many people across Sydney are struggling to get on the housing ladder and I do sympathise with their plight. But there is a far more perilous issue created by the lack of affordable housing to which Premier Berejiklian, and many before her, are turning a blind eye.

Premier Berejiklian must remember that she represents them, too. It is her responsibility, not just to ensure the average Joe can buy a house, but also to support our most vulnerable to have and keep a roof over their head. I'd argue those at this most pointy end of the housing crisis deserve her attention as a matter of urgency.

Every person in this state, and this nation, deserves to have a safe place to call home and, perhaps most importantly, the supports they need to maintain it.

Premier Berejiklian's words make my heart sink as I once again hear talk of supply. You'd be forgiven for thinking that supply, in and of itself, was the cure to all our housing woes. Let's build more houses and we'll all be okay.

But building more homes and building appropriate homes that are affordable and in the right place are two very different things.

It pains me every time I see a new development popping up to think of the missed opportunity for more social and affordable housing for those who really need it.

State governments can play a key role in ensuring planning systems maximise development of below-market housing, by requiring major residential developments to include a proportion of affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning has proved a success in many international cities across Europe and the United States. Even a 15 percent stipulation (much less than some other cities) would significantly boost the affordable housing stock.

Further, when land value increases through planning changes, part of that value should be captured for the public good. It pains me every time I see a new development popping up to think of the missed opportunity for more social and affordable housing for those who really need it. All the more shocking when public money is used to pay for infrastructure that in turn boosts the sale price for the benefit of property developers.

So while I welcome both Premier Berejiklian's and Treasurer Morrison's focus on housing affordability, if we are to address homelessness, the solutions must focus on the whole spectrum of the market. We cannot develop meaningful policy that only looks at part of the puzzle.

And the reality is, we've talked enough... let's roll up our sleeves and get on with the delivering.

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In March 2017, HuffPost Australia is running a housing affordability blog series. We will be sharing the opinions of everyone from senior government ministers to first-time buyers trying to get into the housing market. If you'd like to have your say on the issue, please send a 500-800 word blog to blogteam@huffingtonpost.com.au.



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