Four Nations: International housing strategies examined at NHC 2019
Panel debates housing policy in Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia
13 September 2019
‘Does Australia need a national approach to housing?’ was one of the key questions discussed in the final session of NHC 2019 which focused on the challenges facing four countries—including Australia—in implementing effective affordable and social housing policies.
The session speakers, Mr David Silke from The Housing Agency (Ireland), Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman from the University of Otago (New Zealand) and Mr Steve Pomeroy from Carleton University (Canada), together with Dr Michael Fotheringham from AHURI (Australia), spoke with deep, practical insight about how housing policy was or wasn’t working in their home country and why.
Mr Pomeroy detailed how the newly-implemented Canadian National Housing Strategy (NHS) was born from over 20 years of passionate advocacy based on the terrible situation where, in 1998, several homeless people died on the steps of the Legislature in Toronto. The NHS involved an extensive consultation process, and has two main goals: to reduce housing need and chronic homelessness by 50 per cent over 10 years.
... a real housing strategy in Australia requires the dedicated inputs of Federal, state and territory governments as well as local governments, working together with the community and commercial housing sectors.
Dr Michael Fotheringham, AHURI
Professor Howden-Chapman spoke on the New Zealand experience which has used an evidence-informed approach to develop housing policy with a focus on health and wellbeing. One example is a policy to retro-fit insulation so that rental properties are efficient to heat and reduce incidence of mould, which can lead to asthma in children and the elderly. Indeed, a cost benefit analysis shows a 4:1 benefit ratio for the general population and 6:1 for children and specific adults based on reduced medical and hospitalisation costs and reduced sickness-caused absenteeism. Professor Howden-Chapman identified that having good research evidence strengthens public support for such housing programs, and helps the nation make better progress when there is bipartisan agreement.
Mr Silke detailed the ‘Five pillars’ that the Housing Agency of Ireland is using to focus its approach to helping Ireland recover from the housing crisis that affected it so badly around the time of the global financial crisis. Currently there is political consensus for the five year plan to spend €6.6 billion to deliver 50,000 social housing homes, with some being built, some bought and some being leased. The plan also aims to help people to secure private rental housing through Rental Assistance Schemes.
The ‘pillars’ are focussed on reducing homelessness; increasing supply of social housing; introducing ways to deliver more homes (such as planning reforms); improving the rental sector (such as enforcing standards, setting up a Residential Tenancy Board to help regulates the rental sector and introducing rent pressure zones to restrict extreme rent increases in vulnerable regions); and initiatives to reduce the number of vacant properties.
Dr Fotheringham presented a review of the current state of housing policy in Australia within population, economic and Australian cities contexts. He offered reflections on the experiences of Canada, Ireland and New Zealand and how these might translate to an Australian approach. He suggested that a real housing strategy in Australia requires the dedicated inputs of Federal, state and territory governments as well as local governments, working together with the community and commercial housing sectors. In particular he proposed that Australia does need a long term shared vision ‘if we want accountability, wider engagement and a common direction’ across the nation.