Australia Needs to Reboot Affordable Housing Funding, not Scrap it – The Conversation

Extract from an article by Chris Martin, Research Fellow, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW & Hal Pawson, Associate Director – City Futures – Urban Policy and Strategy, City Futures Research Centre, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW

Federal government ministers have cast a cloud over funding for social housing and homelessness services, leading to speculation that the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) may not survive the 2017 budget.

Treasurer Scott Morrison and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar point to the recent Report on Government Services, which shows the number of public housing properties has fallen, as evidence of the NAHA’s “abject failure”. Sukkar said:

We believe it’s crucial that every dollar of spending on affordable housing programs increases the number and availability of public and social housing stock. Clearly, this objective has not been met.

It should be no surprise that Australia’s social housing has been largely static for 20 years. Everything we know about the system tells us it is not funded to even cover the costs of its ongoing operation, let alone growth to meet the needs of an expanding population. Aside from a one-off boost under the 2009 federal economic stimulus plan, social housing has been on a starvation ration for decades.

The whole system system is effectively being run at a loss. So, from the perspective of state governments, building a new public housing dwelling is just one more way of losing money.

The federal government has also long lamented the lack of transparency about how states and territories spend their NAHA funds – about AS$1.5 billion a year. And there are glaring gaps in the evidence about the operations and performance of public housing authorities.

In failing to act on a 2009 commitment to modernise and enhance the Report on Government Services metrics, the states and territories have placed themselves in a weak position to rebut claims of ineffective financial management.

That said, everyone who has any contact with the public housing system knows it to be grossly underfunded. One-off studies occasionally illuminate the scale of the issue. For example, a 2013 New South Wales Audit Office report found a $600 million annual operating deficit for that state’s public housing. But no-one can easily quantify the extent of the problem using routinely published data.

SOURCE: Martin, Chris and Pawson, Hal. “Australia Needs to Reboot Affordable Housing Funding, not Scrap it.” The Conversation, 20 February 2017.

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