When Robert Menzies once took to the stage, a critic yelled out: “Wotcha gonna do about ‘ousing?”
“Put an ‘h’ in front of it,” the PM famously replied.
Ho ho. If only our present leaders could palm off a housing crisis so glibly.
Perhaps they are.
Housing affordability is one of the biggest issues facing young people in Sydney: will they ever be able to put a roof over their heads?
Our politicians are arguing over how to fix it. I’m no housing expert, but I’ve been watching pollies for decades and suspect we have three types of mindsets in play:
1. MPs who genuinely want to do something to help battlers get a house. This group generally inhabits the backbench and has little power.
2. MPs focused on their own real estate portfolios, and ideologically opposed to battlers getting a house if it restricts market profit. This group has lots of power and can be spotted refusing to use the words “changes to” and “negative gearing” in the same sentence.
3. MPs who use big words but don’t necessarily know what big words mean. This group are often ministers.
Added together, they add so much mud to the water that it is hard to see clearly. Dunno about you, but I reckon it all boils down to one sad fact: Our existing system makes it easier for an investor to buy their 10th house, than a battling young couple to buy their first house.
That needs fixing, both economically and morally.
I know the topic is a vexed one. If the bubble bursts and home values do fall drastically but the size of the debt doesn’t, it will be a disaster. But I fear it’s a house of cards that’s gonna come crashing down anyway, whether it is poked or not.
Tony Abbott as PM used to actually boast about Sydney’s high house prices and call them a “a good thing”.
Our existing system makes it easier for an investor to buy their 10th house, than a battling young couple to buy their first house.
As a homeowner, I get the chord he was trying to hit. The greedy part of me also likes to think that one day when I sell my little 1970s three-bedroom brick veneer I’ll get a good price for it.
But I also have kids, ready to head out into the world, and want them to be able to afford homes, and not spend their life renting. I suspect most of you reading this feel the same mix of emotions.
Changing negative gearing appears to be the key to any genuine reform but Canberra and Macquarie Street, dominated by MPs from groups 2 and 3, hasn’t budged and puts the blame instead on “lack of supply”.
Providing more housing and cutting red tape is the cure, they say. Sounds reasonable at first. But – what they really mean by providing more housing is squeezing as many extra estates as they can into Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly, wiping out our green spaces while they refuse to provide adequate infrastructure. And what they mean by cutting red tape, is nobbling councils if they try to limit bad developers with bad estates.
And the worst part? The supply thing doesn’t work.
Hundreds of thousands of new homes have been approved and estates are going in everywhere, but it doesn’t make a dent on housing affordability in Sydney as we lose our landscape.
It’s a con, because it’s all undone by negative gearing. Even if they doubled new housing in Macarthur tomorrow, it would just mean double the amount of investors will turn up to outbid, or outprice, our local first home buyers and skew the market.
The MPs from group 1 need to step in.
Having a ‘good job’ not enough
Just as Menzies glibly solved the early 1950s housing crisis by putting a ‘h’ in front of it, Joe Hockey famously solved Sydney’s housing crisis by advising first homebuyers to “get a good job that pays good money.”
The fatal flaw with his brilliance, of course, is the definition of the words “good job”. Not all of us are politicians able to set our own lurks and perks. I mean, one of the biggest rorts in Canberra is MPs buying property using their fat $270-a-night travelling allowance to pay off the mortgage. In short, they get a free house courtesy of Aussie taxpayers.
We’re mere mortals, who can't even earn a few extra weekend penalty rate dollars without it being raided by the pollies. One of those Canberra houses I mentioned was sold last year by Mr Hockey and his wife for $1.5 million. Now, that’s a good job!
And what about Mike Baird whose big local contributions were to betray Hurlstone, shut motor registries, open a door to development in the Scenic Hills and refuse to fix Appin Road? He’s now a banker, and just bought a $3.6 million home in North Curl Curl.
I would argue that teachers, nurses, labourers, office workers, small businesspeople and many others do “good jobs” (that contribute to our society far more than politicians or bankers) yet they can't afford to buy a home. Sydney is becoming a city where the people who keep it going can’t live in it.