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Homes Tasmania - Impact of Property Acquisitions from Private Market

Vica Bayley MP

Vica Bayley MP  -  Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Tags: Social and Affordable Housing, Housing Crisis

Mr BAYLEY (Clark) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank the member for bringing this motion to the House. The Government's mantra is supply, supply, supply and we hear that very strongly. I start my contribution today by stating very clearly our position and I trust it is shared more broadly across the House. It is very strongly our position that there is no one single bullet for the housing affordability and rental crisis in this state or indeed in this country. The housing fix has to be multifaceted. It has to be a mix of supply, it has to be a mix of rental control and it has to deal with the short-stay accommodation crisis. That is some of the things we can do in this state.

If you look at this at the national level, there are levers the national government can be pulling as well in relation to negative gearing and other benefits that homeowners, largely investors, have that sees them as having a competitive advantage over new homeowners, people wanting to enter the market, or renters trying to get out of the rental market and get into the homeowner market.

On that note, I acknowledge the progress that has been made over recent days with my federal colleagues in the Senate agreeing to an extra billion dollars on top of an extra $2 billion with the federal government to invest in social and affordable housing. My understanding is that in Tasmania that translates to an additional $75 million. That is $75 million that Tasmania would not have got if it was not for the efforts of Greens colleagues in the Senate pushing the federal government to put that money on the table as part of passing the federal housing legislation. I congratulate my colleagues for that achievement while I am here.

The Government's policy is to invest $1.5 billion in Housing over the next 10 years to build and acquire 10 000 homes. That is a commendable target, we have commented on that before, and it comes with a number of strategies and commitments. I note from the Homes Tasmania statement today about the notion of building and acquiring homes they are saying that the definition of 'new supply' in the monthly dashboard will be updated to reflect the normal business of Homes Tas and the former department of community housing which has always included purchases in the new supply account. They go on to say that the definition is administrative oversight and they apologise for any confusion.

I acknowledge that but that does not excuse some of the Government language of previous ministers, as pointed out by the member for Clark, where Government ministers have repeatedly said that these 10 000 homes and the $1.5 billion is around building new supply. The substance of the motion today is about the notion of acquiring those homes.

Going back to the 10 000 homes and the $1.5 billion over 10 years, obviously that is $150 million a year. However, it is worth making the point, at this point in the debate, that despite the fact that the Government's own figures demonstrate that $150 million a year is needed to achieve this 10 000 homes target by 2032, this year only $87 million was provided in the Budget. Going out to the last year of the forward Estimates, there is $98 million in the budget. However you carve that out, that is at least a $52 million deficit against its own targeted spend against those houses. I am not sure if the minister and the Government have an explanation for that. If so, I would like to hear it, but is an omission and an issue that we have noted and raised repeatedly.

In addition, $10 million of the $150 million is for initiatives that are not for the construction of new houses, as well as funding to cover debt services of between $10 million and $20 million a year. They are nice figures to have on paper and great for the brochure, but we are not seeing borne out in reality. The reality is that the Government could be funding less than half of the annual requirements of their $1.5 billion plan every single year.

We understand that there have been budget asks put in by Homes Tasmania and that the Government has been advised that the budget to build those 10 000 homes is more like $5 billion or $6 billion. We will be watching very closely to see how the Government performs against its own targets when it comes to those 10 000 homes.

Comparing acquiring to building, the Government has repeatedly said we need to increase supply to address the housing crisis. Purchasing existing dwellings that are on the market with tenants in them is not increasing supply. It is shuffling the deck chairs while the Titanic lists under the weight of a crippling housing and rental crisis.

Displaced tenants may need to seek a new property. We are very interested to understand the rights of those tenants. We are interested to know whether the increased net rental competition will likely result in no net improvements to either the housing waitlist or housing stress more generally, noting that that housing wait list is around 80 weeks on a rolling average.

Even the homes removed from the short-stay market will open up other opportunities for private rentals to be converted into short-stay properties, resulting in minimal improvements.

The $20 million spent on these acquisitions is an interesting investment. As a former property valuer with some limited experience in this field - I did not stay in it for too long - I would be very interested in the methods of purchase of those properties. How were they purchased on the open market? How were competing bidders treated? How was that process run?

A cashed-up buyer always has a competitive advantage over someone who is trying enter into the market. It would be fascinating to know what kind of constraints Homes Tasmania puts on itself when it is bidding in this market. It would be a travesty if a government agency or government entity such as Homes Tasmania was using its large capital base to significantly outbid potential new home owners.

We know there is a crisis when it comes to the housing register and social and affordable housing. There are 4598 people on the register at the moment, with a rolling average of 80 weeks to get housed in public and social housing.

We have all heard the big promises of the number of homes this Government will be build. According to the Productivity Commission, there are only 303 more social houses today than there were in 2013. The latest Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot found a number of things, including that rent in Tasmania is rising up to 10 times faster than income support payments; eight out of 14 low-income household types can afford less than 0.5 per cent of properties advertised; an increasing number of Tasmanian children are growing up in homelessness; there was a 45 per cent growth in the number of homeless Tasmanians between 2016 and 2021 and that none of the properties advertised in the south were affordable for a range of cohorts.

This paints a really challenging picture for people trying to enter the housing market and their prospects of getting there. Housing is a human right.

In its submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs; TasCOSS, the peak body in the community industry looking at these issues, said that:

The right to secure safe and affordable shelter is a basic human right, however, this right is being denied to more and more Tasmanians, particularly in the current context of the twin crises of unaffordable housing and skyrocketing cost of living.

Greater Hobart continues to be Australia's least affordable metropolitan area, with the highest proportion of household income spent on rent - almost 60 per cent for lower income households.

It is indeed a crisis. We do not say this is easy. We have some sympathy because there is no silver bullet. We need to have policy. We need to have an approach from Government, particularly its statutory authority responsible for housing and funded to deliver housing, to make sure that it has appropriate and ethical standards and approaches when it comes to achieving the Government's targets.

Regarding other initiatives we need to be engaged in, there is a range of policy solutions that need to be implemented together. I have touched on short-stay accommodation but I cannot stress how significant it is. According to the Real Estate Institute of Australia's latest short-stay accommodation in Australia report, as of March there are 4255 dwellings in Tasmania given over entirely to short-stay accommodation.

That is over 4000 homes for Tasmanians that are now in short-stay accommodation. It represents a 20.8 per cent increase year on year and a 5.2 per cent quarterly rise. For every 100 private rentals on the market 9.2 are reserved for short stay. The Real Estate Institute of Australia president, Hayden Groves, said in the Mercury:

On one hand short-stay accommodation has been an essential part of meeting the high demand for domestic tourism accommodation but on the other at the same time it has come under fire for eating into long-term rental housing and being a driving factor behind the rental crisis.

It is a matter of priorities. Who are we going to prioritise when it comes to the houses that are available in Tasmania? Is it going to be short-stay tourists? Is it going to be the visitors to the state? Can we address their needs in some other way? Or is it going to be Tasmanians, indeed vulnerable Tasmanians, and their rights as a human to have a roof over their heads.

A December 2022 report by Shelter Tasmania found that 67 per cent of short-stay dwellings in Launceston were formerly long-term rentals and 40 per cent in Hobart. The evidence is abundantly clear, we need to be dealing with this problem. We cannot only build our way out of this problem.

Supply is but one element to it. Whether it be purchasing off the open market or allowing them to be shifted into short-stay accommodation, we need to be dealing with the skimming off the top of the market and the supply market. When it comes to rental affordability and having a house affordable and amenable for Tasmanians we need to look at a range of issues. We need to look at rent control. We need to model some kind of rental control mechanism, along the lines of what the Australian Capital Territory has in place where rents are capped at CPI plus 10 per cent and only one every year.

We need minimum standards for appliances such as heating in our houses. We need to allow tenants to have pets and enjoy the benefits they bring to our lives. We need to end no-cause evictions, where at the conclusion of a lease a tenant can be evicted simply because there is a better option or another tenant willing to pay more money for the lease in that dwelling.

We will be supporting this motion. We are very concerned about this as a strategy and as a policy for Homes Tasmania. We are concerned about the unintended consequences, or consequences known and dismissed. The transparency that is being requested by the member for Clark in this motion is something that we support. We understand there may be amendments in the timing about this and we will listen to the debate on that and make a decision. At face value, and first principles, we are deeply concerned about this strategy of Homes Tasmania. We are committed at the policy, practical and political level to deliver better outcomes for Tasmanians when it comes to social and affordable housing and housing more broadly and the rents they are paying to live in a house in this state.

Mr Speaker, we look forward to the minister's contribution.