President’s column

AUSTRALIA has one the most unaffordable housing markets in the world and decreasing rates of home ownership as a result. Higher prices are also driving increasing levels of rental stress and disadvantage in the private rental sector, and a dwindling proportion of public housing.

This crisis has been long in the making, and it’s occurred despite a succession of federal governments telling us that with a new initiative here and pull on a policy lever there, such housing stress could be avoided. Many factors lie at the heart of governments’ unwillingness to deal with this issue, not least of which is that many of us enjoy seeing our houses gain in value!

But what about those who can't afford to step on to the property wealth ladder such as uni graduates, baristas, nurses, teachers’ assistants, retail workers, cleaners, childcare workers, factory hands, and any number of people we all rely on every day – what about their aspirations?

When we purchased our first house in the late 1980s, houses were 2-3 times average earnings. Now they are 6-7 times earnings, or up to 12 times earnings in Sydney. In what other aspect of our lives would we accept a doubling or quadrupling of costs relative to earnings like this?

One upside of federal and state half-heartedness and inaction is the extent to which Local Government has become active in the sector, particularly in the provision of innovative and affordable housing, or affordable land, or rezoning to permit more compact and affordable housing.

As the housing affordability crisis has deepened – and regional Australia has not escaped its effects, either – a range of new actors, with councils prominent among them, has become more active in formulating new policies and programs.

The problem is that although we are committed and enthusiastic about new and innovative housing policies, Local Government’s experience and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t has not necessarily been tested.

Which is why I’m excited about a major research project now underway which aims to fill this knowledge gap and identify practical solutions.

The project, funded by the Australian Research Council and led by Professor Andrew Beer from the University of South Australia, is asking CEOs and general managers of Australia’s 537 councils to enlist in a survey examining how they view and deal with housing – and their experiences dealing with housing-related issues.

The relationship between Local Government and housing, whether it be in a metropolitan, rural or regional setting, will be analysed to identify new ways in which councils can meet their communities’ housing aspirations. 

The research is being led by the University of South Australia and the University of Technology Sydney, with help and input from the Berri Barmera Council, City of Mount Gambier, City of Playford, City of Sydney, Greater Bendigo City Council, Gwydir Shire Council, Moonee Valley City Council, Mount Alexander Shire Council, Randwick City Council, Rural City of Murray Bridge, Sunshine Coast Regional Council, and Waverley Council.

More information can be found on the project’s website.

I urge all of you to forward this to your CEO and ask them to respond to Professor Beer’s invitation so that we can start to meet the aspirations of many Australians looking to get a foot on the housing ladder. 

I look forward to seeing the survey results,

David O'Loughlin