By Willow Aliento
13 March 2014 — UPDATED: The Abbott government has abolished the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness, the “highly regarded” National Housing Supply Council, removed the COAG Select Council on Housing and Homelessness and withdrawn from the community housing sector’s National Regulatory Council, Senator Jan McLucas said.
Following are reactions on NRAS (See “It gets worse for the range of attacks on housing) . We talk to: Senator McLucas and big stakeholders including the Green Building Council, the Residential Development Council (part of the Property Council), , the Australian Council of Social Services, Community Housing Federation of Australia, NRAS Property Australia and a range of other housing and social organisations.
What the stakeholders are saying
Green Building Council of Australia – NRAS strives to be green
The Green Building Council of Australia has highlighted NRAS’s success in delivering housing which meets sustainability benchmarks. This has not been a mandatory requirement in many areas for new single-occupancy homes but is a specific requirement for all NRAS dwellings.
“NRAS has been a driver of affordable housing projects across Australia,” GBCA’s chief operating officer, Robin Mellon said “Many are meeting Green Star benchmarks for sustainable design and construction, making them more efficient, productive and healthy.
“Rather than scrapping the scheme, the Abbott Government has the opportunity to make a good scheme even better.”
He said positive, sustainable outcomes have been achieved at projects such as Monash University’s Briggs Hall & Jackomos Hall, which was the first project to achieve 5 Star Green Star – Multi Unit Residential As Built v1 certification in Australia, and which consumes 45 per cent less energy than business-as-usual. The University of Tasmania also has NRAS-funded projects registered to achieve Green Star ratings.
“These NRAS projects demonstrate that well-designed and well-constructed, sustainable developments are more efficient buildings – with lower energy consumption and lower energy bills the result,” Mr Mellon said.
“Increasing housing affordability in Australia requires a range of complementary measures, together with commitment from industry and all levels of government. NRAS is a vital piece of the jigsaw – one that we can’t afford to lose.”
Residential Development Council, part of the Property Council of Australia
One of Australia’s leading property advocacy bodies, the Residential Development Council, has rejected any suggestion NRAS be wound up as a result of the recent criticisms.
RDC executive director Nick Proud said NRAS had been an important driver in increasing housing supply across Australia.
“Since it was established, NRAS has delivered 14,500 homes with allocations for a further 23,000 homes, as well as supporting Australia’s housing construction industry through the global financial crisis,” Mr Proud said.
“Recent criticisms of international students accessing NRAS ignore the success of the program in improving access to affordable housing for many Australians.
“To suggest that the program should be wound up is short sighted and misguided. Australians consistently nominate housing affordability and supply as a top five issue and this is the one Federal Government program that aims to address Australia’s housing shortage.
“However, the property industry has long advocated for a review of the program to improve the outcomes and ensure it remains focussed on delivering affordable housing for those that need it most.
“What the recent criticisms of the program highlight is the need for the federal government to refine NRAS – but to scrap NRAS altogether would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
The property company
NRAS Property Australia is a Queensland-based company which takes the real estate agent type role of bringing together investors and NRAS properties, which are placed under management of one of the state’s housing consortiums.
The company’s national sales manager, Andrew Herbert spoke with The Fifth Estate, explaining that as he sees it, how the government handles NRAS is an excellent litmus test for their overall position on affordable housing and sustainable housing.
“NRAS is a good program. It’s achieved what it set out to achieve, which is bolster the economy through the GCF, and deliver affordable and sustainable housing,” Herbert said.
“Now we are through the GFC, the only motivations remaining are around affordable housing and sustainability…so if they [end] the program, we have a very clear picture of the government’s priorities.
“Potentially the impact [on the construction industry] of NRAS not being continued is quite huge…and if you look at the map [at the NRAS website] of where projects are being built, that impact would be felt quite widely.”
Herbert said that in some cases, the builders and developers of NRAS projects have been exceeding the basic sustainability standards required, with projects such as those by Brisbane Housing Company (an NFP) including aspects such as green walls, and a focus on natural ventilation, passive thermal management and indoor air quality.
He also pointed out that as a proportion of the overall NRAS incentives, student housing accounts for less than 8 per cent of the total, and spaces allocated to foreign students an even smaller fraction of that.
“They [students] get no benefit from it other than reduced rent, and the [NRAS incentive] benefit is still staying in Australia. I find that encouraging.
“NRAS is a great program if used correctly. It’s achieved what it’s meant to have achieved and more, and we hope it continues.”
The Australian Council of Social Services
The Australian Council of Social Services also released a statement on Wednesday, in conjunction with a number of major charities and peak advocacy bodies for the social housing and homelessness sector. Their message to the government is that NRAS is playing a crucial role in starting to address the housing affordability crisis.
They have also urged the government to tackle the tax arrangements which are inflating housing prices and shutting out people on modest incomes from the housing market.
“If the Government is looking for ways to save dollars, and address our housing crisis at the same time, capital gains tax concessions and negative gearing should be top of the list. Both promote speculative investment in existing housing stock, and further concentration of wealth through property portfolios, that deliver little to stimulate affordable housing supply,” ACOSS chief executive officer, Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
“At a cost of about $4 billion per year to taxpayers, negative gearing drives up house prices, as well as exposing individual small investors to the vagaries of the housing markets.
“Well-off investors are the big winners out of housing tax breaks, at a time when every tax dollar and incentive should be going to help people on low and modest incomes into stable and affordable housing. Housing is our real cost of living problem.
“A sustained commitment to NRAS is consistent with the Government’s stated commitment to an infrastructure agenda, providing as it does an efficient vehicle for private financing of infrastructure and cost-effective affordable housing program.”
Adam Farrar, Chair of National Shelter said: “Negative gearing is inefficient, expensive and inequitable. Current arrangements cannot be justified in this climate of fiscal restraint when questions are being asked about the future of a range of programs which assist low and moderate income households, including the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and the National Rental Affordability Scheme.
“Australia has a chronic housing supply crisis, especially at the affordable end of the market, and we must maintain efforts to increase supply, including via the NRAS.
“NRAS plays a vital role in attracting private finance to increase the stock of affordable housing by offering an incentive to investors. It also benefits low and moderate income households, many of whom are not eligible for other housing assistance but who are priced out of the private rental market.”
The CEO of Homelessness Australia, Glenda Stevens, said that NRAS was important in preventing the risk of homelessness for many low income Australians.
“NRAS was never designed to be a social housing program but is delivering benefits to thousands of low and moderate income households. It has also played a role in preventing homelessness by providing secure housing to many people at risk,” she said.
Community Housing Federation of Australia
The Executive Director of the Community Housing Federation of Australia, Carol Croce, said that “NRAS is doing what it was intended to do: promoting significant investment where it’s needed at the affordable end of the rental market.”
“Many builders and developers involved with NRAS have reported that NRAS incentives can operate as a counter-cyclical stimulus to the construction industry in times of economic or construction downturn.
“NRAS has been a significant driver in the expansion of not-for-profit community housing organisations, who have roles as both developers and tenancy managers of NRAS dwellings. Indeed, more than half of all NRAS recipients are not-for-profit community housing organisations,” she added.
The combined statement was also supported by Mission Australia, the National Association of Tenants Organisations, Anglicare Australia, St Vincent de Paul and PowerHousing.
All agree that while there is scope to improve NRAS, including ensuring appropriate incentives to build larger dwellings for families and address administration problems, the Government should seek to build on the Scheme’s strengths, rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater.
IT GETS WORSE
The Labor Party
The shadow minister for housing and homelessness, Senator Jan McLucas, raised this issue on 27 February in a media statement response to the Senate Estimates Committee.
Senator McLucas said the Abbott Government had no plan to address housing affordability and homelessness.
“This [lack of a minister for housing and homelessness] is yet more evidence that housing and homelessness is just not on the Abbott Government’s radar,” Senator McLucas said.
“In a few short months, we’ve seen the abolition of the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness, the axing of the highly regarded National Housing Supply Council, the removal of the COAG Select Council on Housing and Homelessness and the Commonwealth’s withdrawal from the community housing sector’s National Regulatory Council.
“It has been confirmed today there are no clear alternatives to replace these important forums.
“And it was also confirmed that applicants to the National Rental Affordability Scheme who applied in August last year are still waiting to hear if they’ve been successful.
“On top of this, stakeholders are reporting that no access is being granted to ministers.
“This doesn’t bode well for the future of housing reform in our country.”
Reports on the NRAS stopped being produced and made available not long before the change in government.
Download the NRAS reports up until June 2013 here.
The submissions for round five of NRAS incentives closed on 5 August 2013. One month and two days later on 7 September, the Coalition was elected. There has been no announcement on the progress of the program and little indication what will happen after 2016 when all the currently approved projects are complete – and the scheme is still more than 10,000 dwellings short of the initial NRAS target of 50,000 dwellings created.
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