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Housing Affordability Crisis

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 28 Mar 2007

I rise in support of this urgency motion. The Australian Greens have been concerned about access to affordable housing for a considerable period of time. When you look at some of the details, you see that our concern is absolutely justified, as is the concern of the community. In the past decade the median house price in Australia has increased from four times average incomes to six to seven times average incomes. The growth in the private rental market across Australia has been uneven, and there is a shortage of approximately 134,000 properties in the low-cost end of the market.I know about this from the personal experiences of friends. Only last week one was trying to find a place to rent in Western Australia using the new service of being able to get instant emails when a property comes up. He submitted one saying, 'Yes, I want the house.' Not long afterwards the owners rang to say: 'We've had four people apply for this house at $250 a week. How about upping it to $280 and you might have a chance of getting this home?' He has still not been able to find a rental house in Perth. He has been trying to find one since the beginning of January. I would say his is not an isolated example.
Thirty-five per cent of Commonwealth rent assistance recipients, being families on low incomes, will spend 30 per cent or more of their incomes on housing costs. That is also of concern. It is estimated that 1.1 million people on low to middle incomes are suffering from housing stress. Obviously, this puts stress on the entire family.

I refer to the point that housing is not a Commonwealth government issue. That is a furphy, given that, according to a report released yesterday by Australians for Affordable Housing, the federal government accounts for approximately $24 billion in direct and indirect spending on housing, of which 80 per cent goes into tax breaks for speculators, developers and investors and only 20 per cent is actually directly invested in the needs of ordinary families who are trying to either rent or buy their own home.

I would now like to turn specifically to my home state of Western Australia. Last month I released a report called 'The boom for whom?' in which I looked at the impacts of the boom in Western Australia and the benefits for so-called ordinary Western Australians. The report showed that while the economy is being driven by the mining sector, and wages have risen dramatically in the mining sector, unfortunately that has not been reflected in other sectors. For example, average wage rates in the hospitality sector have increased by only 2.4 per cent in the last 12 months, which is less than half the growth rate in the mining and construction industries and lower than the inflation rate.
Housing affordability has become a major issue in Western Australia. Prices are rapidly increasing and they are approaching Sydney levels. The lower median house price in Perth has traditionally been lower than the median house price in other cities. In just over 15 years the median house price in Perth has risen from under $100,000 in 1991 to well over $350,000 now. With the significant increase in the price of housing in Western Australia the $7000 first home owners grant pales into insignificance. The median house price in Perth is closer than ever to the median house price in the other capital cities. It is difficult for the people of Perth to find the resources to be able to invest in a home of their own. I think it is fair to say that house prices and rents have increased at a much more significant rate in Perth than in other places around Australia.

To address these issues, we believe we need to significantly increase our investment in public and community housing. This could be done in a cost-neutral way. I would argue that there needs to be an increase in funding for housing. But, even if the government did not do that, they could shift the emphasis to more affordable public housing in the community sector in the way they allocate the pie. They could also look at an affordable rent incentive and non-profit shared equity.

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