Q&A with David O’Loughlin on Australia’s housing affordability crisis

ALGA News sat down in Canberra with former ALGA President David OLoughlin, who was recently appointed to the Federal Governments new National Housing Supply and Affordability Council.  As a former Mayor of Prospect in South Australia, Mr OLoughlin is also a Director of the Urban Renewal Authority in SA.

ALGA:  Tell us about your new role with the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council and what is it hoping to achieve?

David O’Loughlin (DOL): I was appointed to the Council in December last year to help provide independent advice to the Government on ways of addressing the housing supply and affordability crisis in Australia.

At the moment, the fundamentals are not looking good. We have a severe escalation in the prices of existing homes along with an increase in the prices of construction materials and labour shortages impacting the cost of new homes.

ALGA: What are some of the main housing issues and challenges youre dealing with at the moment?

DOL: Unfortunately, there’s no Australia-wide model of the housing system at the moment and therefore no reliable forecasting available.

There are also no reliable linkages between population growth, overseas migration rates and demand for housing as well as the urgent need to address the growing gap in skilled construction workers.

The Council is hoping to address these matters and form a cogent picture of what’s happening to advise the Minister for Housing and Homelessness Julie Collins with the best knowledge and forecasting available.

However, while the Federal Government are keen to help, they don’t control land zoning or planning policy and they don’t approve anything at the grassroots level.

ALGA: What are some of the solutions being considered and how can councils play a role?

DOL:  All levels of government have a fundamental role to play in addressing the problem.

Local governments, especially in regional areas, can work with local employers to buy old motels and convert them into worker accommodation. Or offer up surplus council land for joint ventures with state governments for more social or affordable housing. Or work with local utilities and land owners to extend services, build new roads and open up new land for house allotments.

Councils may have spare land or know of land that’s suitable for rezoning, that can be also turned into residential housing.

Of course, getting the local workforce together to build these houses remains challenging but councils do have civil engineering capacity and they could leverage this as a bit of a head start in term of constructing roads and footpaths, parks and stormwater infrastructure, recovering costs via sales, or over time through rates.

ALGA: Whats your message local government about being a key part of the solution for Australias housing crisis?

DOL: The main message to councils is to be alert to this issue and own it!

Regional councils have always been clever and fast-moving in a crisis and now all councils need to seriously consider where they can make a real difference.

We need to think about where our children are going to be able to afford to live when they grow up – how much they’re going pay for a house, how far away will it be and how long it will take to pay off.

The average price of housing per average salary in Australia is now internationally high and it has been for several years, with our capital cities among the least affordable in the world on this measure.

We didn’t get here by accident and this problem will obviously take some time to solve.

But we must find a way forward if we want healthy communities with safe and affordable places for everyone to live.

I encourage every council to own the issue, at a local level, and to start thinking about how they can make a difference, creating a variety of housing choices so everyone can access a home at a reasonable price in a well-located area.

ALGA: Can councils provide direct feedback to you and the Housing Supply and Affordability Council?

DOL: I welcome everyone’s feedback because it’s everybody’s job to get this right for this generation and those that will follow us!

We have some challenging circumstances ahead of us that won’t be fixed overnight.

However, I’m really interested in feedback from councils in terms of what you’re doing, especially if your council has a particular view on how the problem can be better defined or how solutions can be found in the short, medium and longer terms.

While I’m sure I’ll hear from many people happy to apportion blame to other parts of society and other governments, I am very interested in hearing what local councils are doing themselves and what success you’re achieving. This could be in increasing residential land supply, partnerships, civil works, skill development, policy development or securing housing investment by other parties such a local employers, community housing bodies or other governments.

Editors note: Councils looking to provide feedback on this issue – either regarding what they are currently doing, or opportunities they see – can submit them to ALGA here.