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Western Sydney’s Affordable Housing Stress: How do we solve this complex problem?

Andrew Grima

This article is part one of an ongoing series that Coleman Greig will be publishing on affordable housing.

Affordable housing is a complicated topic, and one that Coleman Greig believes Greater Western Sydney needs to tackle immediately given the alarming reports emerging on the population's housing stress.

In April 2019, Wentworth Community Housing and the Western Sydney Community Forum combined forces to release a report on the crisis in Western Sydney, titled: 'Home In Western Sydney Housing Affordability and Homelessness Insights April 2019'.

According to the report, In Western Sydney:

While Governments throughout Australia have been attempting to tackle the issue of affordability for years, this report leaves us in no doubt that there is a real need for Western Sydney to put this issue at the forefront.  
There are a number of policies that have already been put in place by Governments to date, such as the First Home Owners Grant and the First Home Super Savers Account.  For further information on these schemes, please see Andrew Grima's Article: 'A Millenial's Dream: To Lease a House'.  

As Andrew notes in this article, many millennials are taking different approaches to the traditional Australian dream (e.g. renting homes in ideal locations and purchasing investment properties in more affordable ones) although the reality is that they often struggle to reap the government benefits.

With the Commonwealth election looming, the Coalition has yet to make any broad announcements surrounding issues relating to housing, while Labor has announced that it will scale back negative gearing.  For Western Sydney, it is clear that more needs to be done - as affordable housing policies need to encompass all areas of affordability, including:

A variety of strategies are needed, particularly those concerning low to middle income earners who find it hard to save a deposit.

One strategy that some government agencies and not-for-profits have utilised is that of shared equity schemes, which enable social housing tenants to achieve the dream of home ownership by assisting them with purchasing their rental homes from the social housing provider.  These tenants typically struggle to save deposits, pay mortgage insurance and/or service a loan - although as a result of these schemes, they are able to share the cost of buying a home with an equity partner, such as a private investor, not-for profit organisation or government housing authority.  

Examples of state and territory government shared equity schemes include:

Whilst first home buyer grants are important, they are only part of the solution - as it is not solely millennials hoping to purchase their first homes who are looking to achieve the Australian dream.  Further, these shared equity schemes also recognise that making social housing more available is not just about the construction of more housing - and that both creating innovative solutions and enabling social housing tenants to achieve home ownership makes way for the purchase of new stock, and the entry of new social housing tenants.

These shared equity schemes have adopted a variety of legal approaches, including:

Another example of a more radical shared equity scheme is the ACT Government's land rent scheme.  This option provides any eligible persons (pursuant to an income threshold test) the ability to rent land from the ACT Government, rather than purchase it.  Relevant parties are given the opportunity of home ownership by only being required to finance the construction of their own home on the land, and ongoing 'land rent' payments to the ACT Government.

They can nominate to purchase the land at any time, at the current market value of the land by converting their land rent interest into a standard leasehold interest.  Whilst some do consider the scheme to be unusual, it has largely worked, recognising that one of the fundamental barriers to achieving the Australian dream of home ownership is purchasing the land itself.

If Western Sydney is under significant housing stress, now is the time to consider a comprehensive approach, and innovative solutions.

If you are looking for further information on affordable housing issues, please don't hesitate to get in touch with one of Coleman Greig's knowledgeable and experienced property lawyers.  

*The Coalition have released a new first home buyers initiative since the release of this article.

Stephanie Lynch, Special Counsel, has a key interest in housing affordability policy.  She was a key adviser to the ACT Government in relation to its Public Housing Sale to Tenant Shared Equity Scheme, the Land Rent Scheme, and OwnPlace Scheme.  She has also advised numerous affordable housing not-for profits.