The Age ( 28/6/2017) reports on one aspect of housing revealed by 2016 census results:

……..despite the city facing a housing crisis, the number of unoccupied houses and apartments rose to almost 10 per cent of dwellings – pointing to a trend of landlords sitting on vacant investment properties for capital gain. On census night there were 167,500 dwellings in Melbourne left vacant, 26,000 more empty homes than in 2011…..


Article on Homes for Victorians –  for Drill Hall Residents Association website

In the first week of March 2017, the Victorian State Government released Homes for Victorians, the government’s long-awaited affordable housing package which outlines initiatives aimed at creating a more equitable and accessible housing system that benefits all Victorians. While significant reference is made to the ‘Great Australian Dream’ of home-ownership in the foreword from Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, a key component of the package is its focus on the renewal and increase of Victoria’s social housing stock to meet the housing needs of low-income Victorians.

Importantly, this is the first time the Victorian Government has outlined its own specific definition of key terms (affordable housing, public housing, community housing, and social housing) that have often been used interchangeably within government and media settings, causing confusion. This has been done to ensure clarity and understanding of how the terms will be used in this and any future agreements, with the aim of having a legal definition put into legislation in the near future. These definitions are as follows:

Affordable housing

Affordable housing is housing that is appropriate for the needs of a range of very low to moderate income households, and priced (whether mortgage repayments or rent) so these households are able to meet their other essential basic living costs

Public housing

Housing owned and managed by the Director of Housing. The Government provides public housing to eligible disadvantaged Victorians including those unemployed, on low incomes, with a disability, with a mental illness or at risk of homelessness

Community housing

Housing owned or managed by community housing agencies for low income people, including those eligible for public housing. Community housing agencies are regulated by the Government

Social housing

Social housing is an umbrella term that includes both public housing and community housing its provision usually involves some degree of subsidy



Homes for Victorians outlines five key initiatives to guide the future of Victoria’s housing system, including: supporting people to buy their own home; increasing the supply of affordable housing through faster planning; promoting stability and affordability for renters; increasing and renewing social housing stock; and improving housing services for Victorians in need. These five initiatives relate to not only home-ownership but renting, social housing, the planning system, the housing finance system, and homelessness as additional and important components of delivering a sustainable and equitable housing system in Victoria.

The key initiative focused on low-income Victorians is ‘Initiative 4: Increasing and renewing social housing stock’. Five actions are outlined to meet this initiative, focused primarily on promoting the growth of the community housing sector to deliver more social housing. Actions include the creation of a $1 billion Social Housing Growth fund to support up to 2,200 new social housing places through construction and rental subsidies.  Investment of an additional $341 million will be used to renew and expand public housing stock including a Public Housing Renewal Program focused on the renewal of 2,500 existing public housing properties and increasing the number of social housing properties at these sites by 10 per cent. This funding also includes the redevelopment of the Huttonham public housing estate in Preston and finalising the renewal of the Flemington Public Housing Estate. Additional actions include building the investment capacity of the community housing sector through the government providing financial backing to help the sector to access loans at competitive interest rates, transferring management of 4,000 public housing units to registered Community Housing Providers (CHP), and the creation of the Victorian Housing Register, a new online register to apply for social housing assistance which brings together public and community housing wait lists to provide a more effective and efficient application system.

An important change for any Community Housing Association (CHA) currently registered with the Victorian Director of Housing as a Community Housing Provider (CHP), as well as any organisations seeking registration in the future, is the new mandate which requires 75 per cent of social housing allocations come from the public-housing priority wait-list. This list includes applicants with urgent housing needs including people escaping family violence, those at risk of homelessness or living in temporary crisis and emergency accommodation, and those with needs related to their physical disability or mental health (Goodfellow 2017:3; CHFA 2014:4). Victoria currently has a mixed allocation system for social housing dwellings owned and managed by registered CHPs which requires “up to 50% of new tenants must be eligible for public housing (CHFA 2013:8).  This ‘rule’ is flexible in that it does not specify that applicants must be on the public-housing wait-list only that they meet eligibility requirements, generally based on income, and there is no exact percentage mandated. The changes outlined in Homes for Victorians mean that any Community Housing Association wanting to access the new funding opportunities must be registered as a Community Housing Provider and meet the 75 per cent allocations mandate. The Community Housing Federation of Victoria (CHFV) are currently in talks with the community housing sector and Victorian government to understand the effect of this mandate on the future viability of a diverse range of housing programs.

Overall, this significant investment of funds and interest is welcome to address a severely stressed social housing system that is unable to meet current demand, however there are weaknesses in the chosen approach. In a recent article published in The Conversation (2017), Carolyn Whitzman, professor of urban planning at the University of Melbourne, provides an evaluation of Homes for Victorians and argues that “To provide for all households now eligible for social housing, Victoria would require 76,000 more social housing units. By 2051 that figure is projected to increase to 140,000”. The approach put forward by the Victorian State Government does not do enough to address this need – it does not specify the amount of social housing required to meet current and future demand, nor does it suggest a level of social housing as a proportion of private housing stock that could work to ensure ongoing growth of social housing once the projects and targets outlined in the package have been delivered (Whitzman 2017). Additional problems with the package include its short-term focus with the majority of projects outlined in the document to be implemented by 2020, the government’s reliance on the sale of valuable inner-city land for private development, and the lack of innovative social and community housing models which could add diversity to the housing sector and further strengthen the provision of housing for vulnerable Victorians.


Rachel Maguire




Goodfellow, N 2017, Public Housing Eligibility & Applications: A guide to the requirements for public housing, and how to apply for tenancy, Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre, Victoria Law Foundation, viewed online 22 March 2017, <>

State Government of Victoria 2017, Homes for Victorians: Affordability, Access and Choice, viewed online 9 March 2017, <>

State Government of Victoria 2016, Victorian Housing Register Guide, Department of Health and Human Services, viewed online 22 March 2017,

Whitzman, C 2017, ‘What a difference a month makes, but Victoria can still do more to get housing and planning right’, Politics + Society, The Conversation, viewed online 22 March 2017, <>


Federal budget 2017 

As part of the 2017 federal budget the Liberal Government has announced nine measures designed to improve housing outcomes for Australians across the housing spectrum including homelessness, affordable housing, social housing, housing supply, and home-ownership.[1] News headlines such as “Another lost opportunity for housing” [2] and “Sorry, first-home buyers – this isn’t the budget you were hoping for” [3] emphasise this missed opportunity to address the significant shortfalls in Australia’s housing market. The government has failed to make difficult policy decisions that would have a real impact and has instead announced measures that will make little difference to housing affordability and do not address the growing inequality of Australia’s housing market.

The first measure claims to help young people save for their first home through a First Home Buyer Super Saver Scheme. As of 1 July 2018 individuals can save up to $15,000 a year in their superannuation accounts through voluntary contributions.[4] According to the Commonwealth, this measure could boost individual savings by 30 per cent compared with saving in a bank however the maximum savings are capped at $30,000 which, as a ten per cent deposit, would not go far in Melbourne where the median house price is over $800,000.[5] This action will simply work to support existing housing costs and it is doubtful to what extent it will be taken up.[6] A second measure related to superannuation targets individuals over 65 years of age who can now put up to $300,000 from the sale of their property into their super accounts. The measure aims to free up large family housing onto the housing market however it is questionable whether the financial gains are enough to overcome people’s emotional attachments to their family homes, especially given that no changes have been made to stamp duty which is a significant barrier to downsizing.[7]

In three of the nine measures, the government has targeted foreign buyers, an unpopular group in Australia’s property market.[8] This is despite foreign investors owning approximately 2 per cent of the value of Australia’s total residential housing stock.[9] Limitations on the sale of new developments to foreign investors (50 per cent cap on total property sales) and increasing taxes on foreign investment in housing are two measures aimed at ensuring Australian buyers have access to more houses in new developments.[10] Foreign investors whose properties are vacant for more than six months of the calendar year will face an annual vacancy tax which the government hopes will make more residential properties available on the rental market.[11] This measure is similar to the Vacant Residential Property Tax (VRPT) outlined in the Victorian Government’s Homes for Victorians, announced in early 2017, which sees all investment dwellings vacant for more than six months taxed on a calendar year basis.[12] Because it includes exemptions for temporary vacancies, holiday homes, and the use of city units for work purposes this measure, whether it applies to local or foreign investors, would in reality be hard to implement and would most likely make little to no difference to housing prices.[13]

In regards to increasing supply of affordable and social housing, the government has introduced new tax incentives to encourage private and foreign investment in affordable (below market rent) housing acquisition, construction, and development through Managed Investment Trusts. Further to this, a new National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) is to be established by 1 July 2018 to develop a bond aggregator system for the social housing sector. [14] Through this corporation the government will provide long-term, low-cost funding to community housing providers with the aim of mitigating some of the funding risks which often inhibit social housing development projects. [15] What is important to note here is that, without additional public subsidy, it is unlikely that these measures will result in a substantial increase in affordable and social housing stock due to the costs of providing below-market rent housing. [16] Also, as part of this measure the government will allow direct deductions of rent from tenants’ welfare payments which may provide greater income security for investors but does nothing to rectify paternalistic and problematic treatment of social housing tenants.

Australia’s property landlords escape significant reform but can no longer deduct travel expenses related to inspecting or maintaining their investment properties nor claim deductions on some household improvements. The government claims this will “improve taxpayer confidence in the negative gearing system” [17] despite evidence that this and other tax exemptions do nothing to reduce housing affordability, benefit high income earners, and privilege investors over home owners and renters. [18] As noted by Professor Richard Holden (UNSW) in discussing the recent budget announcements:

The biggest minus of all was the absence of any measure whatsoever to address negative gearing and CGT [capital gains tax] exemptions for rental properties … it is reflective of the state of our politics that the one thing that could really help the most (and which the PM has agreed with very publicly in the past) is off the table.[19]

The failure of the Liberal government to make the difficult policy decisions required is even more notable given the Australian Labor Party’s recent housing plan which acknowledged that significant reform to negative gearing and capital gains tax is required to address housing affordability.[20]

According to research from the Grattan Institute, policies that will have a very large impact on housing affordability include boosting density in middle suburbs and along transport corridors, abolishing stamp duty, reforming state land taxes, implementing a capital gains tax on primary residences (for all Australians), and increasing greenfield land supply. With the exclusion of greenfield land supply, all are categorised as politically difficult but would have positive social, economic, and budgetary impacts beyond housing.[21] None of these measures have been addressed in the recent budget. While the final measure – signing new National Housing and Homelessness Agreements with States and Territories – may work to increase housing supply through the Commonwealth providing financial incentives to encourage planning and zoning reform, it remains to be seen how this will be implemented on a state by state basis and what the real outcomes of this measure may look like.

Rachel Maguire

[1] Commonwealth of Australia 2015(a), Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability, Media statement, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>

[2] Daley, J & Coates, B 2017, ‘Another lost opportunity for housing affordability’, National Affairs, Inside Story, viewed online 11 May 2017, < 

[3] Duke, J 2017(a), ‘Federal budget 2017: Sorry, first-home buyers – this isn’t the budget you were hoping for’, Domain, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>

[4] Australian Tax Office2017, First home super saver scheme, ATO, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>

[5] The Real Estate Institute of Victoria 2017, Median Prices, REIV, viewed online 12 May 2017, <>

[6] Daley & Coates 2017, ‘Another lost opportunity for housing affordability’

[7] Holden, R 2017, ‘Budget 2017: government still tinkering with housing affordability’, Business + Economy, The Conversation, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>

[8] Duke 2017(a), ‘Federal budget 2017’

[9] Daley & Coates 2017, ‘Another lost opportunity for housing affordability’

[10] Commonwealth of Australia 2015(a)

[11] Duke, J 2017(b), ‘Federal budget 2017: five housing changes to know about’, Domain, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>

[12] Victorian State Government 2017, ‘New measures for vacant property in Victoria’, News, State Revenue Office Victoria, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>

[13]  Daley & Coates 2017; Daley, Coates & Wiltshire 2017

[14] Daley, J & Coates, B 2017, ‘Another lost opportunity for housing affordability’, National Affairs, Inside Story, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>

[15] Commonwealth of Australia 2015, Reducing pressure on housing affordability, Media statement, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>


[16] Daley & Coates 2017, ‘Another lost opportunity for housing affordability’

[17] Commonwealth of Australia 2015(a)

[18] Daley, J & Wood, D 2017, Three myths on negative gearing the housing industry wants you to believe, Business + Economy, The Conversation, viewed online 12 May 2017, <>

[19] Holden 2017, ‘Budget 2017’

[20] Australian Labor Party, Positive plan to help housing affordability, Labor, viewed online 12 May 2017, <>

[21] Daley, J, Coates, B & Wiltshire, T 2017, ‘Options for housing affordability: the good, the bad and the cosmetic, National Affairs, Inside Story, viewed online 11 May 2017, <>