HAFF’s Unclear Path

On the 11th of September, the Greens announced that with an extra $1,000,000,000 of ‘direct investment’ into social housing – The Social Housing Accelerator – they would support Labor’s ‘Housing Australia Future Fund’ (HAFF).

Labor’s HAFF will pass Parliament. The proposal is still an investment fund which gambles $10,000,000,000 on the stock market. It still plans to introduce an investment account which loans out money to those who are approved. It still demands repayment without providing information on what that would look like. It still won’t solve the housing crisis in our lifetime.

This is not a solution. RAHU overwhelmingly rejects both the Government’s unwillingness to do more for those in housing stress and the crossbench for caving in. It does very little to practically and measurably address the acute national housing crisis. It’s not clear how the HAFF, as it currently stands, will make a dent in the national housing crisis. 

The Urgent Need to Shift Focus from Community Housing to Public Housing

One may wonder what ‘social’ or ‘affordable’ housing even means. No definition of either applies across different levels of government and it’s often inconsistent in how they are presented.

It seems that we must once again be clear: social housing does not equate to publicly owned, publicly run housing, which would provide long-term tenancy and affordable rents – Public Housing. The government prefers to rely on the inferior ‘Community Housing’ model, which is run by so-called not-for-profit, registered housing agencies and charities. Community Housing, by default, leaves tenants in housing stress by demanding a baseline of 30% of their income, while also eating into their other income streams such as 100% of their Rent Assistance. It’s less secure, it has far less transparency and even less regulation. While more affordable than private rentals, it remains an abdication of government responsibility to ensure affordable, appropriate, accessible housing for its citizens. It’s a way to offload public housing while fulfilling their neoliberal duties to protect the market over the lives of the people.

Australia once had public housing in the double digits by the percentage of homes; now, it has dwindled to around 1%-4% across the states and territories. These results have been horrific for anyone who does not own a home. With no competition to the private market and with incentives for wealthy Australians to hoard property, such as negative gearing and the perpetually unregulated vacation rental market, rent has skyrocketed across the board. More and more people are being forced to sleep in their cars, on the streets, or in a squat.

The government has said we need more stock. The Community Housing Industry Association has said we need more stock. The CFMEU has said we need more stock. Direct investment in Public Housing through a fully-nationalised Housing Commission is the most efficient and effective way of creating housing stock, and the most efficient and effective way of putting downward pressure on the housing market.

Still, direct investment through the HAFF has never been on the cards and with the exception of the Green’s completely inadequate, one-time, $3,000,000,000 Social Housing Accelerator, there appears to be nothing on the horizon to change that.

The Need for Rent Controls

During negotiations, members of the crossbench called for alterations to the bill which would have required guaranteed minimum spending per year. Further, it would have legislated a two-year rent freeze and rent caps at the end of those two years, however, these alterations would have been unconstitutional as it’s up to the states to decide on such matters. This was something Labor used to care about. In 1948 and 1973 they attempted to reform the constitution to allow the Federal Government to control rent. Maybe the Government should consider a similar referendum in 2023.

These reforms were neither radical, nor perfect, but they would have brought us closer to the protections renters have across parts of Europe and several states in the US. Misinformation exists claiming that rent controls do not work. However, these are lies spread by property developers and landlords to protect their investments, maximise their profits and to keep the government working for the markets rather than the people. These lies are then parroted by the uninformed and the rusted-on.

RAHU will continue to push the federal government to pass minimum spending on housing builds and we will continue to push the States to pass rent freezes and rent caps. Bold policy changes must be made to prevent the housing crisis from getting worse because it will get worse. But let us be clear: the lack of rent controls is dividing this nation. It has contributed to extreme wealth disparity, erasure of community, generational hopelessness, declining physical and mental health, crushing poverty and homelessness, and loss of life. All because a greedy few have turned a fundamental human right into an investment to be speculated on and profited from.

J.R. Hewitt
Media and Communications Officer
0437 227 463
Email: [email protected]

The Renters And Housing Union (RAHU) is Australia’s largest member-run Union of renters and people in precarious housing. We collectively organise for the right to safe and secure housing through self-advocacy, education, and frontline eviction defence.  

Find out more and join RAHU https://rahu.org.au/