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Housing Land Supply Bill 2018

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 5 July 2018

Tags: Housing, Social and Affordable Housing, Planning

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I indicate that the Greens will be supporting this legislation. We have received a very thorough briefing from the head of the Planning Policy Unit and the secretary of the Department of Justice and their adviser. We have been walked through the clauses in the bill. On behalf of the Greens I am comforted by that briefing because we raised a number of the questions we had in that briefing. However I still think there are some issue the minister needs to flesh out on the Floor of this House, particularly the issue around Shelter's submission and the call for a percentage of the land which is the subject of a land supply bill to be mandated affordable.

One of the problems with the legislation is the lack of a definition of affordable housing. This is an issue that we raised in the briefing and has also been raised by Shelter Tasmania. While it seems like we are being pedantic over something which should be bleeding obvious, affordable housing has a range of measures that define it. I acknowledge that a number of Shelter Tasmania recommendations have been incorporated into the final bill. Shelter Tasmania's submission to the original draft legislation stated:

It is widely accepted that housing is affordable when low income households - that is, the lowest 40% of income earners - pay no more than 30% of their gross household income on housing (and where housing costs are not unreasonably added to through the imposition of other transport, energy or home maintenance costs).

While the Homes Act of 1935 is nice, antique legislation that has been renovated from time to time it does place a set of expectations in law around the Director of Housing's powers and responsibilities.

I acknowledge that in the final draft of the bill it is taken as a given that we do not need to define 'affordable housing' in this legislation because of the provisions within the Homes Act of 1935 which requires certain imperatives and actions on the part of the Director of Housing. Given the other definitions that are included, having a definition of affordable housing - affordable rental housing or an affordable home to purchase would be helpful. The recommendation in the Shelter's submission is that the bill include definitions of affordable rental housing and affordable home purchase housing:

Affordable rental housing - meaning housing that is owned and/or managed by a public housing authority or a registered not for profit community housing provider; and Affordable home purchasing - meaning housing that is offered for sale to purchasers who are eligible for the State Government's HomeShare program.

I encourage the minister to explain why there is no definition of affordability and then brace himself for some possible amendments upstairs to include that definition of affordable housing.

As we know, Tasmania is enduring a housing emergency which has been unfolding for the past four or five years. There is no question that more people are living in and visiting Tasmania. There is also no question that rents are soaring, as are house prices. If you talk to young people today, they have almost given up on owning a home. To a person who is just starting university who looks at the real estate market and recognises that the suburb that they grew up in has quite modest houses selling for six, seven, or eight hundred thousand dollars, young people are highly dissuaded from the hope of home ownership. That is regrettable. There are fixes at the national level which must be delivered in order to stop this seemingly never-ending rise in house prices. Negative gearing and capital gains tax means a person buying their tenth investment property actually receives more assistance from government than a person buying their first home. You know there is a problem with the system when that is happening.

While we acknowledge that the wealth of baby boomers, and probably the gen Xs to an extent, a lot of the wealth is captured in their homes. For the GenYs and the Gen Zs, it is a totally different picture. It requires of us as a parliament, and of the federal parliament too, to acknowledge that you cannot keep pumping up a housing system that is shutting people out of the market. It is leading to soaring house prices and is creating distortions in the supply and the demand of housing. As I said before, the housing market right now is much more favourable to investors than it is to people who are hoping to buy a home.

We have also heard that rents are soaring through the roof. Very modest family homes have rents of $800 and $900 or $1000 a week. A few years ago if we had been talking about these sorts of rents in Hobart, people would have shaken their heads in disbelief. They are quite standard rents now. There is a range of reasons for that. One of them is the shortage of supply and another is the short-stay accommodation market. Landlords can say to tenants that they are going to bump the rent up. 'Yes, we know it is a 60 per cent increase in your rent but it is really hard for us. Either you pay that rent or we put the property on the short-stay accommodation market and make double that in a week'. It is creating situations where tenants are living in fear of losing their homes.

The Residential Tenancy Act 1997 provides woefully inadequate protections for tenants from landlords who are profiteering. There is nothing anywhere that I can find, other than looking at what market rent is - and the market rent keeps going up - that places any level of restraint on landlords who are raising the rent. That is why our policy is the same as the policy that has been introduced in the ACT by a Greens housing minister, which is to cap rents at CPI. If a landlord has a rental income, the cost of living goes up and the rents may go up to the metric of CPI. At the moment, there is nothing like that. We have had reports from the Tenants' Union of tenants copping 60 per cent and 70 per cent increases in their rent. This is in the private market, minister, as I am sure you are aware. We should not be creating a situation where investors are able to profiteer at the expense of some of our most socio-economically disadvantaged people. As Shelter Tasmania says the lowest 40 per cent of income earners are renters and that creates enormous stresses.

The state Government's role, I believe, is to have good policy in place that protects tenants and makes sure that people are not being either driven into further poverty or evicted into homelessness. There will need to be a discussion in this place at some point about how we rein in rents a bit because they are becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Even if young people could find somewhere to share as a home, the rents that are being asked now are an impossible ask. If a person is studying, they do not have a capacity to earn significantly. If they have moved out of home or from Bothwell to study at TAFE or at university it is very difficult to find an affordable home.

The state has to look at rents and a capacity to rein them in. The state has to also get on top of the short-stay accommodation market. We cannot continue to let whole homes disappear out of the supply of affordable housing in Tasmania. This policy is supported by the Tenants' Union of Tasmania. Shelter Tasmania recognises that there needs to be some restraint on the short-stay accommodation market because it is locals who are missing out.

The waiting list for social and affordable housing, according to testimony given by the minister at Estimates last week, is around 3190 people. The majority of them are high-priority applicants and there will be among that cohort of people individuals, couples and families who are sleeping at mum's house, or in a tent at the showgrounds, or just making do in desperate and stressful situations.

This legislation's intent is very sound. I recognise that it replicates in part some of the mechanics of the planning system process, with particular powers given to the Minister for Planning.

The first question was about the request from Shelter Tasmania for there to be a certain percentage of the property made affordable. The second question was why there is no definition of 'affordable housing'. This is not casting any aspersions on anyone in a role, but the concern here is that you are taking public crown land and moving it over under the Director of Housing. Let us depersonalise this. I recognise that Peter White is an excellent Director of Housing, but you cannot make law based on the character of a person in a job at a time. So land moves from Crown Land Services, becomes housing supply land and sits under the Director of Housing for a minimum of 10 years if it is not developed.

If we do not have a definition in the act of 'affordable housing', how can we be absolutely sure that we are not going to be looking at measures that increase the supply of housing but not necessarily the supply of affordable housing, where it is private developers and for-profit providers who are gaining the most out of the provisions in this legislation? The minister should accept that if you have a definition of 'affordable housing' in here, it provides that extra protection. The Homes Act 1935 states as its purpose to provide or to enable the provision of housing assistance to eligible persons and to assist in the provision of housing support services to eligible persons. Eligible persons are people who are living on low incomes and in housing need. We would like that reassurance from the minister.

We would also like the minister to further flesh out those provisions in the legislation about determining what areas of land should become housing supply land. The bill says the minister must not make housing supply land where there is no access to transport and services, so we are not repeating the mistakes of the past, and every person in this place knows what those mistakes were. Despite all the best intentions, 30 years or 40 years ago when governments actually built stuff, they created pockets of disadvantage because of the location of social housing developments and the fact they were often put out on the edges of urban boundaries with insufficient access to transport and services. The minister has to be satisfied of certain matters regarding the land prior to making a declaration and that the area of land is suitable for residential use and/or development, having regard to its proximity to services and employment opportunities. By services, I presume we also mean schools, education services, those sorts of services.

Mr Jaensch - Yes, and shops, doctors, recreational and educational work opportunities - and libraries.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. I note that the legislation requires adherence to state policies. Although there has been a move away from state policies under recent governments, they are a very important planning tool and are rightly pointed to in this legislation. It has always been somewhat perplexing to me that we have these outstanding state policies, like the state policy on the protection of agricultural land, and the State Coastal Policy of 1996 which, in its intent, is a fine state policy but it lacks teeth. I have always been perplexed about where they stand in the planning system. Sometimes decisions are made by planning authorities that do not seem to comply with state policies. I am particularly thinking here of the State Coastal Policy. We should be able to say as a state, 'Your development application is in breach of the State Coastal Policy, don't bother'. If only we could say that to the proponents of the proposed Cambria Green mega development on the east coast, which surely is in contravention of the State Coastal Policy and probably in contravention of the state Policy on Agricultural Land.

The Shelter Tasmania submission also suggests there be a four-year sunset clause. I see that what we have here is that the powers delegated to you lapse after five years and the land that moves from crown land to housing supply land returns to Crown Land Services if it hasn't been utilised for affordable housing purposes. Is that correct?

Mr Jaensch - I missed the question.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am just wondering why the four-year sunset clause was not adopted. If you could explain that it would be helpful. Many of the questions we have come out of the submission from Shelter Tasmania and comparing and contrasting them to the final bill. With those few words I will sit down and we will make a decision about whether we need to go into Committee on the basis of how the minister responds to the questions that have been raised.