Speech by The Hon Mark Butler MP

Launch of UNO Apartments Social Housing Initiative

Location: Adelaide

Affordable housing is one of the enduring challenges of running a modern society and a modern economy. At its heart, a stable roof over your head is one of the most fundamental of human rights and to that extent it’s a question of social justice. But, it’s also a question of economic productivity. Allowing workers to find affordable, accessible housing near their jobs is vital to the economy being able to continue to grow and deliver a level of prosperity to its community. It was with that in my mind that my great grandfather introduced the South Australian Housing Trust legislation to the South Australian Parliament in the 1930s as they were then trying to transform the South Australian economy from an agricultural economy that had been completely battered by the Great Depression to the industrial economy that we still benefit and prosper from today.

Since then, Housing SA has been one of the leading innovators in public and social housing across Australia. It still has, proportionally, the largest public housing stock in the country by quite a considerable distance and this development, that I’m sure the Premier will talk a bit about, is just one example of how it is continuing that incredibly proud record as a leading innovator in public and social housing across Australia.

But the challenge of providing affordable housing, if anything has intensified in recent times, particularly over the last 10-15 years. We saw across western countries, particularly after the dot com bust when cheap money was looking for a place to go, an extraordinary rise in housing prices across the west, including here in Australia. Across the world, the asset increase amounted to around $30 trillion, US dollars, the largest asset bubble in human history. We saw housing price/rent ratio, a measure of true housing value, and the ratio of prices to average incomes soar across the western world, including here in Australia. In the mid part of the last decade, Australian house prices had a rent ratio about 70 per cent higher than their long-term, or their 25-year average. What that did, was to price many Australians out of the market, price many Australians out of being able to get in to housing for the first time as purchasers, particularly younger Australians, but also older Australians who might be experiencing late in life separations, having to divide one house into two.

We also saw a very large increase year on year in rent, which saw younger Australians and Australians on low to moderate incomes, who might not be thinking of getting into the housing market as a purchaser, struggle to find affordable rental properties across Australia, including here in Adelaide.

The Global Financial Crisis had one benefit and that was to start to moderate the housing asset bubble across the west; indeed in some countries it saw housing prices collapse. Here in Australia, we have seen a moderation in housing prices, partly because of economic conditions, but also because of some government policies, which I want to talk about. What you’ve seen with the latest Housing Industry Association and Commonwealth Bank Affordability survey is seven quarters in a row of housing affordability conditions in Australia improving. But, we still have a very significant challenge.

Government policy has been an important contributor to that moderation in the housing affordability crisis here in Australia. We’ve seen the largest ever investment in housing affordability by any government in Australia’s history over the last few years, and all of the strands of those investments come together in this property here on Waymouth Street. We’ve seen a $6 billion investment in social housing through the social housing initiative that followed the Global Financial Crisis. That had led to the construction of almost 20,000 new social housing units, including about 1,500 here in South Australia. It has also led, through the repairs and maintenance element of that program, to about 80,000 existing social housing units being rehabilitated, including about 12,000 which would have otherwise been uninhabitable.

We’ve also seen the National Rental Affordability Scheme start to deliver thousands of new affordable rental properties, including 27 here at the development on Waymouth Street. By the middle of next year, we’ll have 35,000 new rental affordable properties across Australia, rented at a rate at least 20 per cent below prevailing market rates. This has been an incredibly innovative product bringing together NRAS, bringing together the social housing initiative from the Commonwealth, as well as a fantastic youth homelessness service that St John’s is running in the building as well.

This is a very important thing that the Australian Government has done, particularly to take advantage of those moderating economic conditions to start to puncture that extraordinary housing affordability crisis that confronted Australia over the last 10 or 15 years. I’m very pleased to be in this Ministry. I see it as an incredibly important contributor to social justice in Australia, but also to economic productivity and prosperity. It’s a wonderful privilege to be here with the Premier, partnering with the South Australian Government, which for 80 years has been a leading innovator in the delivery of social and public housing to keep our economy strong in South Australia and to keep South Australia socially fair as well.

I congratulate everyone who has been involved in the construction of this building, and who will be involved in the maintenance and delivery of services associated with it. Thank you very much for the invitation to be with you.