Canberra Urban Regional Futures Seminar

06 March 2017

I’d like to start by acknowledging we meet on the land of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders both and present.

I would also like to extend a welcome to any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are with us this evening.

Thank you for inviting me along this evening to join in the conversation.


I had the pleasure of studying urban and regional planning under Barbara Norman here at UC and have attended many CURF events, although I must say this is the first time I’ve had such a captive use of the microphone.

So we’re here to talk about housing affordability and I’d like to thank Alan and Travis for their contribution.

So how do we make housing more affordable?

It’s a sage question – shelter and the protection it provides is a basic human right.  It’s even outlined in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Rights ratified by the UN in 1948.


“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services...” and it continues.


So since 1948 we’ve been saying everyone has a right to housing  – and as aside I’m going to note that although the UN charter only refers to men and their families, EVERYONE   (pause)   has a right to housing.


It’s an expectation we’ve built into our psyche as a community, with the quarter acre block and backyard hills hoist of the Great Australian Dream considered the ultimate realisation of a higher standard of living.


But the reality of achieving the dream is, as we know, becoming increasingly difficult.


The housing boom of the 1990’s early 2000’s coupled with a range of policies has created a climate where for many people, the only way to break into the housing market is to draw heavily on the Bank of Mum and Dad.


But a lot Australian families are unable to provide financial support for their children well into adulthood.


When we talk about housing affordability, we’re talking about how much a household earns, compared with how much they’re paying for housing.


The OECD has found a 78% increase in Australian housing prices between the early 1980s and 2015.


For Canberra, the nominal median house price has shot from just under $40,000 to $570,000, and first home buyers have felt this most, they are overwhelmingly young people and young families.


They need support, and viable options that lead to having a home of their own.


As I’m here representing the ACT Government I’d like to take a moment to outline what the ACT Government has been doing to increase housing affordability.


In 2007 the ACT Government began implementing the Affordable Housing Action Plan, which was designed to address housing affordability across all incomes and tenure types.


Objectives aimed to address needs across the housing spectrum, including public and private housing supply, community rental housing and tax reform.


Inclusionary zoning and planning reform were also examined, as well as the more specific needs of the ageing population and the homeless.


The plan has enjoyed considerable success with the provision of sites for public and community housing, taxation reforms, acceleration in land release, provision of homelessness support services, and the introduction of land rent, particularly for low to moderate income households.


Under the current Affordable Housing Action Plan, since 2007 the ACT Government has provided...

2,650 dwelling sites for purchase at specific, affordable prices.

2,025 dwelling sites have been released under land rent.

523 sites have been allocated to Community Housing Canberra.

459 sites have been allocated for new public housing construction.


These actions have increased housing affordability for first home buyers, renters, and residents who benefit from government housing support.

ACT Gov has also prioritised accessible and sustainable design as part of the Plan, and ensured diverse sizes, prices and locations of blocks in Land Development Agency (LDA) estates, including compact blocks and affordable house and land packages.

The plan also facilitated private sector investment opportunities to combine universal design and external services for aging in place. A trial project would be the next step on this action.


Sustainable development outcomes were explored through built form in Bonner which included 12 contemporary display homes.  All homes achieved a six star energy rating and showcased the latest in modern living and sustainability. 


Demonstration villages were also built in Franklin and Dunlop showcasing innovation in affordable design, most of which were sold at or below the Government’s affordable price threshold.


Last year’s Productivity Commission also found that the ACT has the highest proportion of social housing in Australia, with 30 social housing dwellings for every 1,000 people, compared to the national average of 17 dwellings.


But despite these successes, there are still pressures for those on the lowest incomes, particularly the lower 2 income quintiles.


In its 2015 report titled ‘Housing Demand in the ACT’, the ACT Housing and Homelessness Policy Consortium highlighted that many families in the bottom 40 per cent of household incomes pay more than 30 per cent of their gross household income in rent or mortgage payments.


The report also acknowledged that housing affordability for households earning the lowest 40 per cent of incomes is very different for those


So we need to keep addressing the issue and identifying new ways to meet the challenges we face.


I put quite a bit of thought into what I could suggest this evening about how we can work together to further respond to the housing crisis.


Needless to say I alone with my thoughts did not come up with one universal answer.


In thinking over the issues however I did make an observation that I’d like to share with you.


The story of the Great Australian Dream has been largely consistent.  You get a steady stream of income, usually partner up, save your money together for a deposit and take out a loan to purchase the home where you’ll raise your family.


But while the story of the Great Australian Dream has remained steady, the story of our community and who we are has not.


So although we’ve been debating housing affordability for a long time, the community and the needs of that community that we are seeking to serve through this debate are continuing to evolve and diversify.


And I think this is one of the main challenges we face – on one hand we have a long standing and singular concept of what type of housing we all aspire to and how we can obtain it...  and on the other hand we have a population with diverse needs and desires that don’t necessarily fit this traditional understanding of home ownership.

To start addressing the housing affordability crisis, we need a better understanding of the housing needs and wants of ALL our community and a diversification in the options available to obtain them.


But ACT Government does not hold all the levers. In April 2016 we made a formal submission to the Commonwealth-led Affordable Housing Working Group.

The submission noted the ACT Government’s success in using a mix of supply and demand-side strategies to support the most vulnerable Canberrans – but there are limits to what the ACT can do alone.


Many of the key levers to address housing affordability sit within the control of the Commonwealth Government.


It is important that States and Territories keep the pressure on the Federal government to provide national leadership and policy debate on this issue.


The ACT’s experience over the last 9 years support the Government re-evaluating efforts in order to address housing market gaps for households earning under $95,000 a year.


The Community Sector Workshop hosted by the Minister for Housing, Community Services and Social Inclusion in July last year collaborated with key community sector representatives to isolate four main areas for reform.

In addition to an ongoing land release program in excess of underlying demand, the Government’s commitment to improving housing affordability for those on low incomes is now reflected in the 2016 Parliamentary Agreement. 


The Agreement proposes new affordable housing targets, new facilities, the creation of an innovation fund, new investment in community housing, and strengthening homelessness support.


The Government has also committed to establishing a new Housing Strategy and throughout 2017 looks forward to working collaboratively with the industry and the community sector to identify new and innovative actions that could be pursued in the ACT to improve housing affordability. 


I look forward to fleshing out what other ideas we can bring to the table.

Thank you.