From prefabs to super funds: The conference brewing up fixes for Australia’s housing crisis

By Our Reporter
Prefabricated homes // Image created by Bing Image Creator

Australia’s National Housing Conference, hosted by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), unfolded in Brisbane from 10 to 12 October 2023. With about 1,000 delegates in attendance, this forum became a crucible for discussing the causes and solutions to the increasingly unmanageable housing crisis. The conference returned to Brisbane for the first time since 2012, and this year, the Queensland Government joined as a conference sponsor.

Michael Fotheringham, managing director of AHURI, was among those who highlighted the dire need for not just building more houses, but also creating a diverse housing supply across the country. However, even with calls for quick fixes, such as prefabricated housing, the general consensus was that it will likely take 20 to 30 years to resolve the crisis.

The conference unveiled five significant proposed solutions to the crisis:

Fast-tracking Prefabricated Home Schemes: Prefabricated homes, built offsite and assembled as required, have been lauded as a quick fix to the housing crisis. These homes can be constructed in a mere four weeks, saving both time and potentially costs. The Queensland government has announced the rollout of 52 such homes in the coming months, aiming to promptly address housing needs.

Getting Super Funds to Build ‘Rent-to-Buy’ High Rises: The rent-to-buy scheme allows tenants to purchase the property they live in after a specific lease period. Dr Fotheringham mentioned that such an initiative has been successful overseas and could be adopted in Australia, possibly with tax incentives.

Taxing Airbnb-style Short-term Rentals: One hot topic of the conference was the potential to tax short-stay accommodations like Airbnb. Victoria is currently the only state considering a 7.5% levy on such rentals, which could compel owners to revert their properties back to long-term rentals.

Helping Low-Income Earners Get into the Market: A Help to Buy scheme aimed at low-income earners was discussed, which could involve a shared equity scheme providing an “equity contribution” of up to 40% of a new home’s cost.

Planning for Generational Change: With a federal grant of $398 million, Queensland plans to add 600 extra social homes. Dr Fotheringham urged the focus on 30-year plans, as an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 people currently require social housing.

The conference didn’t shy away from controversial topics like the impact of immigration on housing demand. While some critics argue that reducing net overseas migration could alleviate the housing shortage, the conference notably lacked discussion on this potential solution. Respected veteran analyst, Louis Christopher, known for his views on lowering immigration, was not invited to the event.

Aside from proposed solutions, the conference also touched on several broader issues. The practice of short-term rentals came under scrutiny, as critics argue they drive up rents and exacerbate housing shortages. The vulnerability of older women to homelessness was another point raised, as well as citizen-led housing initiatives proposed by advocates.

It has taken decades for Australia’s housing crisis to reach this flash point, and no quick solution seems in sight. Though public housing tenants and stakeholders are engaging more than ever, many critics feel that the conference’s proposed solutions fall short of the bold steps needed. Most notably, the federal government’s policy of mass immigration was cited as a major driver of housing scarcity, but this remained a largely overlooked element in conference discussions.

Though the crisis is far-reaching in its implications, the National Housing Conference has at least moved the dialogue forward, pointing to potential paths out of Australia’s housing labyrinth. However, as most experts agree, it will require a significant commitment of both time and resources to make any headway in resolving this crisis.

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