For more affordable housing we need more public housing.

by Lilia Anderson


Public housing was once much more common – we need more public housing rather than rely on private landlords to keep prices down

The Queensland Government recently announced the purchase of a vacant hotel in South Brisbane to provide over 50 homes for people in need.

The move is just the latest in a series of purchases – which include two hotels and several former retirement villages and aged care facilities.

Yet the direct provision of housing by governments in Australia has become increasingly rare. Data from the ABS shows that the proportion of households living in public housing has been in decline over the last 15 years.

In 1995-96, public housing made up 6% of housing tenures in Australia. By 2019-20, that figure had halved to just 2.9%.

We just aren’t investing in public housing like we used to. Where government builds had accounted for 16% of total national residential construction between 1945-1970, from the mid-1990s on they accounted for just 3%. Today that legacy of public housing is nearly depleted, and new builds just aren’t being added.

To make matters worse, this shortfall isn’t being made up by increases in community housing. Overall, this means that the proportion of social housing – which includes both public and community housing – is in decline.

The lack of public housing means that low-income groups are being pushed into the private rental market, where they face low vacancy rates and skyrocketing rents.

Anglicare’s 2023 Rental Affordability Snapshot showed that less than 1% of rentals were affordable for someone earning full-time minimum wage, and only 0.1% of rentals were affordable for a person on the Disability Support Pension.

As a result of these costs, almost 1 in 2 (44%) of Commonwealth Rent Assistance tenants are experiencing rental stress.

But it doesn’t have to be this way: a better alternative would be to just build more public housing. This would not only benefit those who can qualify for public housing directly, but those in the private sector who will benefit from less competition for rental properties – resulting in lower prices for all renters.

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