In late March 2020, all levels of government in Australia scrambled to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Impacts to the housing system were apparent early. Challenges for landlords and tenants due to sudden job and income loss resulted in swift moves to prevent eviction and push for mortgage relief. Efforts to slow the spread of the virus included quickly transitioning empty hotels for use as emergency temporary housing for people sleeping rough.
The potential for housing to provide stimulus has also been one of the first policy levers pulled by government. In NSW, $60.5m from the first stimulus package was for social housing including $47m to upgrade public housing properties and $13.5m for Aboriginal Housing Office works and maintenance to its properties in regional and remote areas.
Some have been quick to make the case for an expansion of stimulus funding for social housing to increase supply through spot-purchase and new construction for the many more households who are likely to need it, and help boost the construction industry with small and large ‘shovel-ready’ projects in cities and towns around the country. The Community Housing Industry Association of NSW (CHIA NSW) is calling for the establishment of a dedicated Social and Affordable Housing Capital Fund to support at least 5,000 homes being built per annum in NSW; as well as the development of a coordinated National Housing Strategy. This call has been backed up by others who have asked whether the pandemic provides a unique opportunity to fix some key flaws of Australia’s housing system that have proved to be intractable for decades.
The weeks and months ahead will no doubt present many challenges. However, the situation also presents governments with a unique opportunity to address the shortfall of social and affordable housing that many have been waiting for, and invest in the system for the many who are likely to need it in the future.