COVID turbo-charged Australia’s existing housing problems, but policy solutions are available, says a new report.
A newly-published UNSW Sydney research report provides a comprehensive roadmap to confront Queensland’s housing and rental crisis, with many of its recommendations applicable and adaptable Australia-wide.
The report, A blueprint to tackle Queensland’s housing crisis, was commissioned by the Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) with support from a coalition of partner agencies. It is one of the most wide-ranging housing policy reviews to date.
“The report lays out an evidence-backed reform package that tackles the housing crisis at state level, with suggestions on federal input as well,” says Professor Hal Pawson, Housing Research and Policy expert from UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre and lead author on the report.
“In a nutshell, the housing crisis comprises declining home ownership, growing private rental stress, rising homelessness and shrinking social housing capacity,” says Dr Andrew Clarke, lecturer in sociology and social policy at UNSW’s School of Social Science and co-author of the report.
“The pandemic exacerbated all these problems, but Premier Palaszczuk’s action in convening her Queensland Affordable Housing Summit last year is really encouraging evidence that the state recognises the gravity of the challenge and has the ambition to tackle it.”
“Our report for QCOSS highlights a wide range of feasible and realistic policies that can effectively confront aspects of the housing policy challenge affecting Queensland and other states – many of which can be actioned at no cost to the government,” says Prof. Pawson.
Australia-wide trends of higher intensity in Queensland
As emphasised by the report, problems such as the declining rate of young adult home ownership have been gradually intensifying for decades. Equally, recent years have seen a new surge in housing stress in Queensland, more marked than in any other part of the country.
“In Queensland, a majority of new private lets are unaffordable to low-income households, and homelessness has been rising faster than in any other mainland state,” says Prof. Pawson.
“Governments have failed to grow the social housing portfolio in line with population, and private rent inflation has been recently rampant.
“These negative trends are happening in most parts of the country but are of a higher intensity in Queensland, partly due to high rates of migration from other states and partly due to other factors such as the conversion of long-term rentals into short-term lettings through platforms like Airbnb.”
Unlike most other states, Queensland’s population is evenly split between region and city – and it’s regional Australia where the post-COVID housing crisis has generally been most intense.
“Our report adds to the evidence of the scale and the profile of unmet housing need,” says Prof. Pawson. “It also reveals the uneven geography of rental stress, indicating that several coastal and central mining areas in Queensland have experienced the most intense rent increases and declines in rental affordability over the past few years.”
“The sheer scale of housing issues facing regional Queensland is quite alarming,” says Dr Clarke, who conducted stakeholder interviews as part of the report. “There’s a lot of anecdotal chatter about a post-COVID housing crisis, but it’s glaringly apparent from our hard evidence that the regional housing problem is worse than we thought.”
Key findings of the report – all specific to Queensland – include:
- A recent burst of rental inflation has seen private rents growing at rates faster than in any other Australian jurisdiction.
- Homelessness in Queensland rose by 22 per cent in the four years to 2021-22, compared with only 8 per cent across Australia.
- Rising homelessness has been particularly evident in regional areas, where the average monthly number of Specialist Homeless Service users increased by 29 per cent from 2017-18 to 2021-22.
- Declining rental affordability for low-income households has been most marked in regional Queensland, where this trend has been ongoing since at least 2017-18, with the proportion of lettings affordable to this population cohort falling from 36 per cent to 17 per cent over this period.
- The sharpest private rent increases have been seen in regional markets, where over the past five years, median rents rose by 80 per cent in Gladstone, by 51 per cent in Noosa, and by 33 per cent in the Gold Coast.
- Overall, there are approximately 150,000 households across Queensland whose needs for affordable housing are currently unmet – that is, they are either homeless by ABS Census definitions or otherwise low-income recipients living in private rental housing and paying more than 30 per cent of household income in rent. As of the 2021 census, this ‘backlog need’ includes over 102,000 households who would typically be eligible for social housing.
Ad hoc housing policy approach to date
The report argues that Australia is in urgent need of a coherent housing policy reform package.
“Right now, we have a piecemeal approach in housing policy that involves isolated housing initiatives that only look at specific aspects of the housing problem,” says Dr Clarke. “These alone are not enough to make a significant difference.
“Our report is pushing policymakers to think of housing as a system and address the root of the housing problem, recognising that both levels of government need to give greater priority to tackling the issue and to do so collaboratively.”
“Tax reform and co-contributions at a federal level can greatly assist states in tackling the housing crisis,” says Prof. Pawson. “Extraordinary, although it might seem, it is only in 2023 that Australia’s first-ever national housing strategy is being developed.
“We just have to hope that the Albanese Government’s National Housing and Homelessness Plan, currently taking shape in Canberra, turns out to be fit for purpose.”
Snapshot of policy recommendations
- Meet social housing need by further expanding housing investments funds (state and federal responsibility), phasing in meaningful inclusionary zoning, examining scope for land value extraction via public housing estate renewal, mandating the inclusion of social/affordable housing for non-estate public land disposal, building community housing capacity, with special emphasis on Indigenous community housing organisations and establishing a permanent supportive housing funding framework.
- Both state and Commonwealth governments can assist with affordability and security for low-income private tenants by reforming rent assistance, further strengthening rental regulation, reviewing the scope for stronger short-term rental regulation and facilitating build-to-rent development.
- The Commonwealth government should reform private landlord tax concessions that negatively impact broader housing affordability.
- State governments should phase out stamp duty and replace it with a broad-based land tax.
- State and Commonwealth governments to re-establish housing entity within government.
- Establish annual publication of key social and affordable housing statistics.
Read the report: A blueprint to tackle Queensland’s housing crisis