Originally published in The Guardian on June 1, 2023

Australia needs more housing, and we definitely need more public housing

There is rarely a debate in Australia that generates more heat than housing. The causes of housing unaffordability and the solutions to it are varied and often get bogged down in power plays and political scaremongering. But as policy director Greg Jericho notes, building more homes is a pretty obvious solution, and more public housing needs to be at the forefront.

The NSW Productivity Commission this week released a report into housing in NSW that recommended “Building more homes where people want to live.” To this end it suggested raising average apartment heights in suburbs close to the CBD, allowing more development near transport hubs and encouraging townhouses and other medium-density development.

All of this is worthy. And if combined with the reform of the negative gearing and the capital gains discount will do much good.

But the report noted that “New South Wales experienced a 45% surge in priority applicant households on the social housing register, with 6,519 priority social housing applicants waiting for assistance as at 30 June 2022”. And yet it did not mention public housing or any social housing solutions at all.

In the past public housing was a much greater share of Australia’s housing market.

In 1983 14 public housing building approvals were made for every 100 private sector ones. Now it’s 1.7:100.

The level of new housing per head of population has fallen and it is thus little wonder that house prices have risen beyond the means of many.

We need more housing and we desperately need more public housing.

In the 2019 election campaign, the ALP pledged 250,000 new houses over 10 years. That has now become 30,000 over 5 years under the proposed Housing Fund. It is time for more ambition from the government and more housing for low and middle income earners.

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