A new report by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) reveals, for the first time, the extent of housing need in Australia. An estimated 1.3 million households are in a state of housing need, whether unable to access market housing or in a position of rental stress. This figure is predicted to rise to 1.7 million by 2025.
To put it in perspective, 1.3 million is around 14% of Australian households. This national total includes 373,000 households in New South Wales, where the number is expected to increase by 80% to more than 670,000 by 2025 under the baseline economic assumptions of the modelling.
The first graph below shows the average annual level of housing need to 2025. The second, showing the percentages of households, permits a direct comparison by state. NSW and Queensland are in the worst position. The ACT is calculated to have the lowest proportional level of need.
What does this mean for households in need?
Housing need is defined as:
… the aggregate of households unable to access market-provided housing or requiring some form of housing assistance in the private rental market to avoid a position of rental stress.
This includes potential households that are unable to form because their income is too low to afford to rent in the private rental market. These households would traditionally rely on public housing and community housing to meet their needs. However, more and more are being forced into the private rental market, paying housing costs they are unable to afford without making significant sacrifices.
To 2025, on average 190,000 potential households in NSW will be unable to access market housing in a given year. The graph below is the most revealing as it illustrates the gap between affordable housing demand and supply.
The lack of social housing and subsidised rental housing prevents such households forming under affordable conditions. Many will manage to form but will have to spend well over 30% of their income on housing costs to do so, putting them in a position of financial stress.
The results also reveal the increasing pressure the affordable housing shortfall places on the housing assistance budget, notably Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
The absence of a significant new supply of affordable housing – there has been no large-scale program since the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) began in 2008 – has left state governments trying to find ways to plug the affordability gap.
Responses have been largely on the demand side, such as first home buyer concessions recently announced in NSW. But such incentives are no use for low-income households. To help them, intervention needs to be on the supply side.
How does Australia compare?
The AHURI research built on ideas emerging from research into housing need in the UK. It revealed interesting differences between the two countries.
UK government policy prior to 2010 emphasised the role of the planning system in helping to substantially increase affordable housing supply. This reflected evidence from England and Scotland that found a link between low levels of new housing supply and higher and rising house prices.
In this project, we found plenty of evidence of deteriorating housing affordability in Australia. But we did not find a particularly strong relationship between housing supply and price growth. This might reflect how other drivers of deteriorating housing affordability are more important in Australia – such as tax incentives for investors.
These findings suggest we need to look more closely at how new supply and investment demand interact, and in what circumstances boosting new supply is likely to improve affordability.
From our analysis of individuals’ labour market circumstances and incomes, it was also clear that the Australian workforce has not escaped the erosion of secure, full-time employment opportunities seen in other countries.
The combination of widespread insecure, part-time employment opportunities, high housing costs and low supply of rented social housing means the housing of many working Australians is extremely precarious.
How was the research done?
The research modelled housing need at the state and territory level to 2025 using an underlying set of economic assumptions and interrelated models on household formation, housing markets, labour markets and tenure choice.
The models were underpinned by data from the Housing, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and house price and rent data.
This research delivers, for the first time in Australia, a consistent and replicable methodology for assessing housing need. It can be used to inform resource allocation and simulate the impact of policy decisions on housing outcomes.
The intention is to further develop the model to assess housing need at the level of local government areas.
So, what are the policy implications?
The scale of the affordable housing shortfall requires major action from federal and state governments.
NRAS had its problems but at least delivered a supply of below-market housing. Australia cannot rely on the private sector to deliver housing for low-income households without some form of government subsidy as it is simply not profitable to do so.
The question is what government is going to be prepared, or even able, to spend big to close the affordable housing supply gap?