$10 billion housing fund may be killed off before a brick is laid

Labor's investment vehicle to raise funds for social and affordable housing projects, HAFF, was a signature election promise but it is in peril unless the government can get The Greens to support it.

 Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese frowning.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had made the $10 billion housing fund a key election promise but its fate hangs in the balance. (Image source: Shutterstock.com)

The federal government’s signature $10 billion housing fund may be killed off before a brick is laid.

A day after The Greens forced voting in the Senate on Labor’s key Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) legislation to be pushed back to 16 October, Housing Minister Julie Collins speculated that the government may not reintroduce the bill.

As well as being a devastating blow to efforts to bolster the nation’s chronic shortage of housing, it could even lead to an early double dissolution federal election.

The Senate, by not passing the bill, has given the government the first part of the trigger that could be pulled if the bill was reintroduced and rejected by the Senate a second time.

The Greens have continued to call on the government to take immediate interim action to impose two critical conditions in exchange for their support for the HAFF.

The first is to commit to a $2.5 billion direct investment each year in affordable and social housing (instead of $500 million indirect investment through market development); and the second is to impose rental caps, which Labor has said it cannot undertake without the states’ agreement and claimed it will further constrain supply, making the problem worse.

When asked if the bill was dead, Ms Collins told media, “We're looking at what we’re doing, what options are available to us.”

In February this year, the Government introduced the HAFF in the hope it would soon would build 20,000 social housing properties, with 4,000 of those to be allocated for women and children fleeing domestic violence, and for older women on low incomes at risk of homelessness. Another 10,000 affordable housing properties would be made available for frontline workers.

With typical bluntness, Senator Jacqui Lambie slammed The Greens during an interview on Sky News for railroading a crucial policy.

“If The Greens really think that they want to put a hold to this until they get their rental freeze crap through, then be my guest,” she said.

“If you want to keep playing with people’s lives … they sit there and they pride themselves on their social values and that they are there for the most vulnerable people.

“If this is the way of them showing that that’s what they are there for, bloody crap.”

“Stop playing with the most vulnerable people’s lives in Australia and get on and put this housing bill through today.”

Greens say soaring rents justify position

Greens spokesperson for Housing and Homelessness Max Chandler-Mather MP said they had halved their initial demands.

“If Labor can spend over $30 billion a year on Stage 3 tax cuts for the wealthy, they can find $3.5 billion a year to fund a rent freeze and more public and affordable housing. 

Rents are soaring under Labor and 60 per cent of people back the Greens’ push for a rent freeze.”

Tanya Steinbeck, CEO, UDIA WA

Tanya Steinbeck, CEO, UDIA WA

Acknowledging the HAFF was in peril, Tanya Steinbeck, CEO, Urban Development Institute of WA (UDIA WA), said it was vital the government’s undertaking to deliver a million homes in the next five years was fulfilled.

“Regardless of the outcome of the above, UDIA National has been pressing to resolve the core problem, which is that no delivery of housing can occur unless there is a boost in supply and appropriate incentives to ensure projects are commercially viable where there is affordable housing involved.

“Even if the HAFF does not pass, these issues must be solved and there are other mechanisms, including incentives under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, that will enable the Federal Government to incentivise housing supply using the current $1.6 billion funding available or boost it to achieve similar aims to the HAFF.”

Maria Edwards, CEO, Real Estate Institute of ACT (REIACT), said proposals by The Greens like rent freezes would not benefit tenants.

“Holding the country to ransom with a one-size-fits-all approach ignores the unique economic indicators of each state and territory and disincentivises long-term investment in every jurisdiction, especially in Canberra, where there has been a significant turnaround in the market in the past 12 months.”

“We are now seeing landlords having to reduce weekly rents for properties as cost-of-living pressures impact what tenants can now afford while absorbing rapid and sustained increases to interest rates – a double whammy for investors.”

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