I’ve been doing a little campaign around this, because I am increasingly angry about the way that housing is discussed – as an investment, or a way to make money, or claim a tax deduction – rather than as a home.
That very discussion then morphs into some nebulous notion of unaffordability, with entirely predictable articles about housing bewailing the ‘young people today who won’t move to the suburbs because they are snobs.’ Or that it’s so easy to buy a house with a little jiggery-pockery that we don’t call class. Right.
All this misses the point entirely – everyone deserves a home, not just the people who can afford one. Disabled people, older people, unemployed people, sick people, people who are carers, single parents deserve to have somewhere to live. Surely that’s not a controversial statement. And yet, policy and budget spending seems to say it is.
This is what is missing from so-called housing affordability debate. If someone can’t afford a home, what happens then? As one charming Facebook commenter said – ‘buy your own, or go without.’ Ok then.
Social and public housing used to have more political support, with the Commonwealth Housing Commission saying in the 1940s that:
“We consider that a dwelling of good standard and equipment is not only the need but the right of every citizen – whether the dwelling is to be rented or purchased, no tenant or purchaser should be exploited for excessive profit.”
Yes, that is the sound of a thousand tenants weeping. Governments, then, knew they had a role in making sure everyone had somewhere to live, trying various experiments, but continuing to increase the supply of public housing until the 1980s, where it was left to the market, and that worked out so well.
The public housing waiting list in NSW has over 60,000 people in a ten year long queue. In the meantime, they pay more and more of their incomes on rent, live in squalid and crowded conditions, or end up living in cars or tents. And this is just the people who can get on the list.
If you earn the minimum wage, you can’t apply. If you earn more than $575 a week, at any time, you are off the list, so if you get any kind of casual or temporary work, no house for you. This is the opposite of the housing affordability discussion – here, you can’t get any help if you work at all. Given the rise and rise of casual workers, this is all a bit broken.
If you can’t afford a home, you can’t access all the benefits of living in a big city – public services, jobs, friends and family while people who can afford a home get to have them all. This puts a means test on the public services that are meant to be for everyone. More social housing means everyone can fit in Sydney, not just those who can afford to.