Getting our facts and housing history in order

With ‘housing’ dominating the news cycle it’s easy to confuse terms like ‘housing affordability’ and ‘Affordable Housing’ or public, community and social housing. So often these terms are used interchangeably in mainstream discussions. Shelter highly recommends this AHURI Brief on the difference between social and affordable housing. The article provides some simple definitions and a succinct explanation as to the importance of non-market housing and how far Australia has to go towards satisfying the demand for it.

Another very recent article by Marcus Spillar titled ‘No trickle down solution to the housing crisis‘ explains how the departure of the biggest housing builder and investor over the last twenty of so years has left Australia with too few houses. The developer? The public sector.
Spillar notes that under previous commonwealth-state agreements the public sector built around 15,000 dwellings per year from 1954 through to the mid-1980s. Since 1986 however, government sponsored housing construction has fallen precipitously. Over the past decade, public sector housing approvals have averaged around 3,100 per year, a fall Spillar describes as ‘precipitous’ and obvious in this chart:

Dwelling approvals – public sector 

In a case of ‘what could have been’, the article surmises that had Australia continued to build social housing at the rate observed in in the 30 years before 1985, there would be more than 330,000 additional social housing units across the country today. Imagine what NSW could have done with say an additional 80,000 social housing dwellings over that time.

And finally, this article from Peter Mares titled ‘The elusive quest for decent homes‘ looks at how not-for-profit associations have taken over the provision of affordable housing (there’s that term again) in Britain and the lessons it may hold for Australia. Along the way, he examines the history of public or ‘council housing’ in the UK – and its early reputation for high-quality design and construction. The subsequent deteriorating reputation of public housing is explored. On the advice of a social historian, Mares suggests such reputations could just as easily be attributed to the mass unemployment experienced across Britain in the 1980s as to the physical buildings and designs that are usually held responsible. Like Australia, Britain’s political and ideological drivers saw public housing become a ‘residualised’ or welfare product with not-for-profit housing associations stepping into other parts of the sector. Mares provides a balanced discussion about the progress of community housing in Australia and the opportunities and risks that come with it.

“It was completely normal”: the Boundary Estate today. Peter Mares