Key issue missing from housing debate

Independent Indi MP Helen Haines alongside Real Estate Institute of Australia chief executive Anna Neelagama. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

A failure to address a crippling housing crisis in regional Australia could have serious economic consequences, governments have been warned.

Independent Indi MP Helen Haines, Real Estate Institute of Australia chief executive Anna Neelagama and Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers made the warning at a National Rural Press Club address on Tuesday.

With Australia’s housing crisis in the spotlight and debate raging over the Albanese government’s $10bn housing future fund, the co-panellists said regional and rural Australia needed to be considered in fixing the country’s crisis.

They said the dire situation in the regions – where approvals for new homes are seriously lagging behind population growth – was the result of a lack of political will, poor policy making and market failure.

Rental vacancy is below 0.5 per cent in many places, and increasingly becoming too expensive, especially for people on JobSeeker or on minimum wage.

Independent MP Helen Haines and Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers said regional housing needed to be treated as a priority. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Ms Haines said in the 35 years she’d lived in her electorate in northeast Victoria, she’d never seen a housing situation like “what we’re seeing today”.

“Whether I’m in a small town or a large regional centre, people tell me how hard it is to find a place to live that’s affordable and appropriate to their needs,” she said.

“And they tell me that they’re shocked to see people living in tents or in council parks or to learn of countless people couch surfing.

“This used to be a story of the cities, but this is a story of country Australia too.”

She said the housing situation made it “completely impossible” for many people on the brink of homelessness, or already homeless, to enter into the job market – even though people were keen to work and local businesses were crying out for staff.

“The lack of affordable housing has consequential flow-on economic impacts,” Ms Haines said.

Ms Haines said she had never seen the housing situation in her electorate as bad. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Ms Chambers said while the Albanese government had not created the housing crisis, it had a role to play to ensure affordable rental homes were available.

“We need to make sure that social and affordable housing keeps pace with our population, and we know that private rentals don’t trickle down,” she said.

“But social housing does actually have benefits that flow out to all Australians – it helps people in need, it frees up cheap rentals for everyone else, and it’s a lifeline for rural and regional areas where profit-driven housing doesn’t always flow to.

“We need to build 25,000 homes each year for the next decade to make sure that we keep up with social housing. Our current rate is about 3000.

“The current government didn’t create this crisis, it inherited it, but some government is going to have to jump on this.”

Ms Chambers said governments needed to chip in to build the affordable rentals needed in the regions. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Ms Neelagama said all governments needed to work together because it required different levels of programs and investment by each state and territory.

“We need state planning ministers and LGAs to clear backlogs, we need leadership to support our construction sector and fix their current skills crisis,” she said.

“The answers are hard, but they’re fundamentally very simple – we need to better use the homes that we have already built, and we need to build more homes.

“Australia’s regions have for so long offered so much promise, and with the political will and collaboration of many, our regional housing requirements can be met.”