What is a bond aggregator and how does it help build affordable housing?

AHURI research informs Treasurers’ affordable housing plan

Last updated 4 Dec 2017

In the 2017 Budget, the Treasurer Scott Morrison announced the creation of an affordable housing bond aggregator, the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC), to raise money at lower rates from the wholesale bond market for not-for-profit community housing providers. The Government will provide $63.1 million over four years from 2017–18 (including $4.8 million in capital) to establish and run the NHFIC.

The NHFIC is based on AHURI research into bond aggregator models presented in a report from the Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG) to Federal, State and Territory Treasurers as part of the Council on Federal Financial Relations in late 2016.

At the 2017 National Housing Conference the Hon Michael Sukkar MP, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, announced a number of key features of the new NHFIC relating to the bond aggregator model, including that:

  • the NHFIC will have an independent Board responsible for making all investment decisions. The Board will be guided by an investment mandate which reflects the Government's priorities for the NHFIC
  • all registered CHPs will be able to apply to the affordable housing bond aggregator for finance
  • the Commonwealth will guarantee the bonds issued by NHFIC.

The Government is working to have the legislation establishing the NHFIC (and its investment mandate) ready for introduction into Parliament in early 2018, with the Corporation to commence operations on 1 July 2018.

What is a bond aggregator?

AHURI research proposed the creation of an Affordable Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC). The AHFC is designed to aggregate and source large amounts of capital from the bond market so as to provide lower interest, long-term loans to not-for-profit community housing providers (CHPs) developing housing for lower income households. The intention is that money would be raised efficiently with reduced financing costs rather than in expensive one-off transactions such as when borrowing from a bank.

What are the benefits of a bond aggregator?

The benefits of a bond aggregator such as the AHFC are that it is relatively simple and transparent; minimises the impact of debt on government budgets; draws on the successful experience and expertise of other countries; provides lower cost finance to community housing providers and therefore is likely to maximise the sustainable expansion of affordable housing stock.

How will a bond aggregator work in Australia?

The AHFC would be an expert independent not-for-profit entity adapted to Australian financial market conditions from established Swiss and UK schemes. New affordable housing projects built by finance sourced through the AHFC would be administered by CHPs, and the properties rented in the private rental market (with rents charged at 80 per cent or less of those charged in the local area) or sold under some form of shared equity model. In either case, the dwellings would be targeted at people working in lower paid jobs or those who otherwise can generate an adequate income (such as self-funded retirees). As a consequence, the properties are unlikely to be available for households who have no income apart from government welfare payments.

Through its management team, the AHFC would:

  • assess the risks and benefits of applications from individual CHPs for borrowing money
  • combine the approved borrowing applications from many different CHPs
  • raise large volumes of money ($50–200 million and upwards) from long-term low-yield bonds issued by specific banks to institutional investors
  • distribute the money to the applying CHPs
  • monitor that the CHPs were using the money properly and effectively
  • collect the repayments (of both interest and principal) from the CHPs
  • repay the banks who would return money to investors.

AHFC bonds would come with a carefully structured guarantee such that interest and loan payments due to investors would be paid by the Australian Government should a CHP borrower be unable to make a repayment. This lowers the perceived riskiness of the bond, resulting in a lower interest rate paid to the investor. The Swiss Bond Issuing Cooperative guarantee scheme that the AHFC is based on has recorded no repayment defaults during its many years of operation.

Standard and Poor’s noted that, compared to Australian Government balance sheets, the size of potential risks to be guaranteed by the AHFC was minute, and therefore was unlikely to impact the Government's credit ratings.

The research into the AHFC model is detailed in AHURI Final Report No. 220.