Opinion / Why we have to vote to keep housing affordable

In an unlikely alliance, MICHAEL HOPKINS, from the Master Builders Association ACT, and TRAVIS GILBERT, from ACT Shelter, find themselves in furious agreement that the lack of affordable housing is straining fairness and economic growth […]

WHILE our roadsides might be covered with signs about trams, schools and hospitals, the winner of the ACT election on October 15 is going to be faced with a problem that threatens all of our neatly worked plans for the social and economic future of the city.

A lack of affordable housing imperils prosperity and good social outcomes in equal measure. It constrains everything we do and hope to achieve in Canberra.

Earlier this year, Anglicare released its 2016 Rental Affordability Snapshot. It describes the number of properties, rooms and rental arrangements affordable to people on various income types using the commonly accepted benchmark of paying no more than 30 per cent of your income on housing. It looked at people on fixed incomes and on the minimum wage and found there were no properties affordable to a single person on Newstart; no properties affordable to a person on Austudy; only one property affordable to a person on the Disability Support Pension; and a handful of properties affordable to people on an aged pension.

Michael Hopkins.

Michael Hopkins.

It also found that there were no properties affordable to a single person on the minimum wage and small numbers affordable to people on minimum wages with families.

The fact that Canberra has almost no housing affordable for people on fixed incomes is a blow to our notions of fairness and equity.

The lack of housing for entry level workers and students should also be a real worry to anyone concerned about the economic future of our city.

Canberra needs affordable housing that meets the needs of our workforce into the future. Long gone are the days when our city could see itself as a city of public sector office workers with 9-5 jobs and stable incomes. Instead, we are becoming a town more focused on our education sector, on tourism and hospitality and on being a regional retail destination.

The highest projected employment growth, to November 2018, will be in the public administration and safety industry, when it is predicted the industry will account for 32.7 per cent of the labour market. Continued strong growth in health care and social assistance jobs will see this industry retain the second largest share of the labour market (10.3 per cent) ahead of the professional, scientific and technical services industry (9.5 per cent). The education and training industry will grow marginally, providing 9.2 per cent of jobs. Projected to grow at a rate of 0.5, the retail trade industry will account for 7.2 per cent of the ACT labour market in 2018. The construction industry will make up 6.5 per cent of the market, growing at a rate of 0.4. Despite having the fourth largest growth at a rate of 0.6, the administration and support services industry will only account for 3.1% of the labour market.

We don’t have workers to fill them now. The latest skills shortage report from the Federal Department of Employment lists shortages or difficulties in recruitment across 11 different industries ranging across education, childcare workers, construction and trades, automotive engineers, and health workers.

Where the economy and social imperatives join is in the cost of not meeting these challenges.

Travis Gilbert.

Travis Gilbert.

Housing poverty results in further demands on our social services and emergency programs. If not dealt with, some people find a path into acute and emergency settings as well as within the justice system. Financial insecurity and housing stress means that consumers spend less.

Unstable or inadequate housing can also contribute to time off school, study and work. At the extremes, older people trapped in housing that no longer suits them can suffer falls and injuries which see them in expensive acute healthcare.

Building good schools, hospitals, disability care, transport and city infrastructure all requires workers and they require somewhere to live.

Whatever you care about in this city, the availability of affordable housing will either underpin it or derail it.

Indeed, we’re so concerned about the impact of a lack of affordable housing on the social and economic future of Canberra that we’ve taken the unprecedented step of putting community and industry interests together in the final weeks of the election campaign.

Usually it’s candidates asking for our vote, but we are flipping the campaign, inviting voters to bring housing issues directly to the door of their elected representatives and to ask them to vote for legislation and policies that increase affordable housing if they enter the Assembly after the election.

Michael Hopkins is the deputy executive director of the Master Builders Association ACT and Travis Gilbert is director of ACT Shelter.

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