2 Feb 2017

Thank you Nicola (Lemon) - (Hume Community Housing Association CEO) and the board of Hume Community Housing for inviting me here today.

I also acknowledge Tania Mihailuk, NSW Shadow Minister for Social Housing who is also here today.

Even at such short notice, it is a pleasure to be here at the opening of this development which is the product of social housing programs of which I am an enthusiastic supporter.

This development of 21 social housing units will provide safe, secure homes for people from different cultural backgrounds, people who have been homeless, people who have suffered from domestic violence and people who have made the transition from supported housing.

It includes two adaptable homes for people with disabilities.

This development represents a milestone for Hume Community Housing Association. It is Hume’s first design and construct development.

Today we are opening a fine example of what can be achieved when governments, community housing providers and homelessness service providers work together within a supportive policy framework to help and house some of the most disadvantaged people in the community.

Having said that, I am concerned that the supportive policy framework on the federal government side is suffering from neglect and in some respects, wilful damage.

This development is the product of finance provided in part by investors in the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

The establishment of NRAS in 2008 under the stewardship of my friend and colleague Tanya Plibersek represented a major policy shift in the provision of housing assistance in Australia.

For the first time, the Commonwealth made a long-term supply side intervention in the housing market to leverage private investment in the supply of affordable rental housing on a national scale.

The implementation of NRAS was consistent with a worldwide shift in the funding of affordable rental housing away from direct government outlays to subsidised or incentivised private investment as a means of supply side stimulus.

So it came as a great shock and disappointment when in May 2014 the government announced it would cap NRAS at 38,000 dwellings and scrap the Scheme, particularly as the announcement wasn’t offset by any other supply side measure.

It marked the Commonwealth effectively abandoning the field on supply side policies to increase the stock of affordable rental housing.

It is a decision that in my view has set us back years and we have some catching up to do.

NRAS was on track to provide 50,000 new affordable rental dwellings.

Despite some eminently rectifiable administrative problems, NRAS has achieved many of its objectives.

NRAS helped lift many households out of housing stress.

The major beneficiaries have been and one and two adult households and sole parent households; precisely the household type for whom there are chronic shortages of public housing.

In Sydney, subsidising rents through the NRAS tax incentive has increased the number of suburbs accessible to NRAS eligible households.

Of the 62 suburbs in Sydney where there are more than 15 NRAS subsidised dwellings, only ten of them would have been accessible to a low income renting household of two adults or a sole parent in the absence of NRAS.

NRAS subsidised dwellings have been developed in metropolitan areas which are close to employment and education opportunities as well as good transport options for people to get to and from work and participate more widely in their communities.

NRAS provided higher investment potential for affordable rental housing than otherwise would have existed. It means affordable rental housing was built, like the units we are opening today, that wouldn’t have otherwise been built.

In my view, all policy options that will increase the supply of affordable rental housing have to be on the table.

That includes a tax incentive scheme such as NRAS.

Also on the table has to be a finance model that can leverage large scale, institutional investment in affordable rental housing.

As some of you know, the Turnbull government is considering the establishment of a financial institution to act as a bond aggregator or financial intermediary to help bridge the finance gap in the provision of affordable rental housing.

Such an institution has been on my radar since about the first day of my job as Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, which began in August last year and I will have more to say on it in the coming weeks and months.

There are more policy options that need to be on the table.

There is no single, correct answer to increasing the supply of affordable rental housing.

If we recognise that even a moderation of property prices isn’t going to provide relief for hundreds of thousands of low income renters, Federal and State governments need to give serious consideration to inclusionary zoning regimes that would mandate affordable rental housing in new developments, particularly on high value sites close to employment and education opportunities.

Working to give practical effect to inclusionary zoning regimes, government can do more to identify surplus government-owned land and other property holdings that could be released for affordable housing.

By international standards, Australia’s private rental markets perform particularly poorly when it comes to providing security of tenure and the ability of tenants to make a life with the full enjoyment of their homes.

Federal and state governments should adopt principles in relation to private rental leases that reflect the right of the growing number of households that choose to rent long-term to access and remain in adequate, affordable and appropriate housing with protection of their rights as citizens and consumers.

Of particular concern to me is the dilemma many older women find themselves in if their circumstances change and they find themselves at risk of homelessness.

Also, I hold concerns for young people exiting out of home care who can find themselves on the street and subject to exploitation and abuse.

I think it is clear that the National Affordable Housing Agreement needs to be revisited and where necessary, changed so that it comprehensively accounts for how money is expended; particularly Commonwealth money.

As it stands, there are no specific performance measures relating to, for example, the impacts of NAHA expenditure on employment, education or health outcomes for social housing tenants or communities, or even whether expenditure leads to any new social housing stock.

Australia’s community housing sector is very small by international standards, representing around two percent of the country’s housing stock. By comparison, social housing accounts for over 20% of the UK’s housing stock.

Australia’s community housing sector has great potential for growth and in doing so make a powerful contribution to making Australia a good society, in which safe, secure, affordable housing is an essential ingredient.

Government support is essential to that growth occurring.

This development is an example of what can be done to make that vision a reality. Repeated on a much larger scale nationwide, with the support of governments and access to the finance that is essential to its development, it is my belief we can make it a reality.

Congratulations Nicola (Lemon) and your team at Hume Community Housing on seeing this development come to fruition.

I am looking forward to working with you and the wider community housing sector to deliver the development of many more like it.

Thank you.