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3 major demands out of the National Regional Housing Summit

By Juliet Helmke
12 February 2024 | 13 minute read
liz ritchie anna neelagama denita wawn reb2 ravrzw

With a diverse array of regional housing players in the room, the calls to action were not universally delivered, but certain voices rose with clear messages.

With an audience of 200 attendees spanning the sectors of real estate, finance, construction, planning and government at all levels, as well as over 100 online attendees, the event on 9 February at Canberra’s Old Parliament House assembled a group keenly aware of the housing issues plaguing the nation.

Many brought personal stories from their regions – as well as their own lives – to demonstrate the severity of the problem. These included a shire CEO in his 30s who found himself living in a retirement village because of the lack of suitable dwellings when he moved for the job; local government areas that have no planners living or working in their council area; regional buyers who were approved for a $1 million loan before being dropped by the bank due to the prospective home being located in an “unstable” regional market; and countless councils dealing with a rapid rise of rough sleepers.

Stories and anecdotes that served to show how housing issues vary drastically between different parts of the nation emphasised the argument from the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) that solutions must be bespoke and tailored to communities. “When our decision-makers release policies that are a one-size-fits-all approach, it is very underwhelming,” commented Liz Ritchie, CEO of the organisation.

Regional housing targets

But RAI did put forward one clear call: for the the federal government to apportion 40 per cent of the funding out of the Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) to regional areas, and aim to build 450,000 of the homes to come from the 1.2 million target made through the National Housing Accord in “the right places in regional Australia”.

Ms Ritchie admitted that the request had not found many backers in Parliament.

“We know that governments don’t want to divvy up and release targets, but we want to come away today with a very strong voice to reach that target,” she said.

One parliamentarian backing the effort, however, is independent member of parliament for Indi, Helen Haines, who addressed the crowd. Ms Haines has been pushing to apportion a percentage of HAFF to regional building since before it passed Parliament, though she noted that she will be flexible in continuing to push the cause, currently advocating for 30 per cent of HAFF funding to be devoted to the regions.

Ms Haines noted that she was successful in having one amendment included in the HAFF legislation, that being the stipulation the program reports on the amount of funding flowing to the regions as the money is deployed. The first of those reports will come out this year.

Cohosts of the event, the Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) and Master Builders neither supported nor rejected RAI’s call, instead voicing policy positions that aligned with their membership.

Increasing private investment

REIA chief executive, Anna Neelagama, focused on ensuring the regions are attractive to investment.

“We want the regions to be a great place to work, live and invest; what we need to see from policy leaders is some certainty,” she said, commenting that conversations around rent freezes and negative gearing disincentivise investment activity.

She advocated for delegates in the room to push for “policy certainty”.

“We want to see a strong voice from the regions saying to policymakers, we need the certainty to encourage investing in the regions.”

Stability for building

Certainty is what Master Builders is looking for too, but the organisation is asking for efforts to provide stability in home building in the years ahead. Denita Wawn, CEO of the organisation, commented that the body has projected “a rollercoaster ride of likely building activity over the next five years”, and noted that the clock would soon begin ticking on the ambitious target of building 1.2 million new homes in five years.

She explained that with the industry struggling with a skills shortage, it’s further stressed by uneven building pipelines that are hindering the building industry from even adequately planning its workforce needs.

While Ms Wawn opined that the nation’s home building target is achievable, she also stressed the stakes of the conversation taking place that day, and the importance of all stakeholders coming together to tackle the issue of increasing supply.

“We have a housing crisis in Australia. If we don’t get this right, we’re going to be in a worse situation in five years than we are now. That’s the stark reality, that’s what we’re dealing with here. It’s incumbent on all of us here, whether in government or not, to work together,” she said.

It was a point stressed by Ms Wawn and others throughout the day: that collective action and cooperation between different entities with often differing purposes will be needed to tackle the huge task.

“If we can’t collectively resolve this issue and work on it now, then we are disappointing the vast majority of Australians,” she said.

3 major demands out of the National Regional Housing Summit
liz ritchie anna neelagama denita wawn reb2 ravrzw
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Juliet Helmke

Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.

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