National Housing Conference 2017

National Housing Conference 2017 inspires some hope

Build-to-rent dominated the conference, according to Magnus Linder, Rob Powell and Rob Burnelek

 Magnus Linder, Executive Officer, Churches Housing, reports

The National Housing Conference is a key gathering of sector participants from government, NGO, developers, housing providers and academics and researchers. The once fledging affordable housing sector is still small but on the verge of quick growth – however only if given strong government support and policy. Here is a 10 bullet-point summary of some of the things that stood out from my own notes:

  • Housing rights are human rights (Trudeau)
  • Australia has so much space with 3-4 people per km2, yet the dream of home ownership appears to be fading fast
  • Canada’s National Housing Strategy aims to achieve transformational change with a total investment of $40 billion over 10 years – yet for every $1 invested it sees $1.50 trickled down.
  • Migration and the failure to decentralise our key cities (Sydney and Melbourne especially) have added to property price woes. Decentralisation ensures benefits of migration will be shared beyond two cities.
  • Australian migration was an average of 80-100,000 a year or 1 million per decade. Up to the 1990s, 2/3 were unskilled. Now migration is 190,000 a year but 70% are skilled – mostly in Sydney/Melbourne. Slowing migration may cool the housing market but may also crash the economy.
  • Middle Australia is worrying about our children – will we ever get them out of our home and into their own?
  • If house prices fall too quickly, then many investors and home owners may be exposed.
  • The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) is an important part of the national housing puzzle. Everyone working together will lower the price of finance.
  • NHFIC is an affordable-housing bond aggregator. Bonds are guaranteed by the Federal Government. There is an opportunity also to refinance existing loans.
  • Reducing barriers to downsizing is an important measure. Proceeds could be allowed to go straight into super at up to $300,000 per person as long as they have owned the house for 10+ years.

Rob Powell, Project Officer, Churches Housing, reports

When I went to my first housing conference five years ago, the mood was depressed and there was a set-in despondency that nothing would ever change.

More recently, as housing has become a hot topic in the public arena, there have been some glimmers of hope. The National Housing Conference in December confirmed the recent trend of hopefulness in the housing sector. There were more new initiatives and talk of finding solutions in a way that felt do-able – even from government!

The keynote address by Evan Siddall, President & CEO of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (Canada), was one of the highlights. Although Evan could not be there in person, his recorded message was engaging. Viewing the video gives insights into what could happen here if plans for a similar scheme (NHFIC) get the go-ahead.

Other highlights involved discussions on build-to-rent and a presentation from Dr Shann Turnbull on New Garden Cities approach to housing and social wellbeing.

What was somewhat disappointing was that a number of the sessions I attended were shallow and only just skimmed the surface of the issues and did not really approach possible solutions.

One of the things I noticed and had the opportunity to chat about with other attendees was that the sector is still seen in small silos – social, affordable and market rental.

The introduction of build-to-rent will add another much-needed opportunity to increase supply. It will also increase the complexity of the sector with questions such as whether this new supply could be used for affordable and social housing.

As I mentioned at ‘The Future of Social Housing in NSW: Consultation’ with the Hon Pru Goward MP in December, I would like to see more discussion on breaking-down the silos and seeing housing as a continuum from homelessness through social and affordable housing to market rental and ownership, focusing on a new sliding-scale rent subsidy policy and a system that does not require tenants to move each time their financial status changes.

Rob Burnelek, CEO, Axis Housing, reports

My main interest in the National Housing Conference was about the emerging build-to-rent discussions that have been occurring.

The conference had a large focus on build-to-rent, and I was trying to understand what all of the excitement was about. I was trying to work out whether there was something more complicated that I didn’t understand, or whether it was just a new trendy way of doing what the Church sector has been doing for years.

On the positive side:

  • I realised that there was not anything too difficult to build-to-rent – it really just means building a property, and rather than selling it, the owner holds onto to it to rent it out. The main difference is that now large institutions are looking at doing this.
  • It is starting to bring Australia into line with other housing markets where institutions supply a large amount of the rental housing.

On the negative side:

  • Aside from increasing housing supply (which is still desperately needed), it does not have anything directly to do with affordable housing. The organisations doing this are mainly focusing on full-market rentals.
  • There was also a continued cry-out from every speaker saying that the government needed to provide more money to subsidise the housing. Whilst this will help, there was little innovative thought as to how this was possible (and it can be done).