Affordable Housing & Cost of Living PolicyHetty Johnston
What we know
Housing that is affordable and accessible remains out of reach for many people in Australia. With housing ownership rates falling, particularly for people under 65 years and those on low incomes, Australia is facing a crisis of accessibility and instability.
According to the University of New South Wales and the Australian Council of Social Services,  approximately 3.05 million people were living below the poverty line in Australia in 2015-16. Of these people, around 739,000 were children.
In dollar terms, the poverty line in Australia is about $433 per week for singles ($22,500 pa) or $909.00 per week ($47,000pa) for a couple with two children.
Electricity prices are going up, with many low-income people choosing between food and electricity. Additionally, fuel prices, particularly in rural and remote regions are extraordinarily high.
In those regions, in particular, food is also expensive, with families not being able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables – something that is essential for good health, particularly for growing children.
What can we do?
Increased affordable housing
The Australian Government must act to ensure that affordable housing is available, in greater numbers, across all communities. This is not simply an increase in social housing, but I am also calling for a substantial investment in affordable housing for people who are working but not able to afford housing close to their work. Essential workers such as nurses, police, child care workers and teachers simply cannot afford to live in many of our cities – this needs to change.
Depending the economic modelling you read, changes to negative gearing will either make housing more affordable for young people or drive investors from the market leading to a housing shortage and price increases.
Some would say this is merely a cynical plan to increase revenue and will not impact on the market. Some say the effects on retirees will be impacted despite the promises to the contrary.
It is difficult to know what the actual outcome will likely be. We don’t know if this policy is politically motivated to deliver a budget outcome or people motivated to deliver housing affordability. Until such time as this becomes clearer, I believe it is dangerous to support this policy.
We need to raise the tax-free thresholds for aged pensioners to $10,000 ($192 pw) to enable them to participate in employment, if they want to, without penalty to supplement their inadequate pension payments. The same to apply to others receiving limited government benefits, such as the disability pension. In addition to helping with their immediate living costs, this approach would also incentivise people to successfully find work and would provide an opportunity to some of the nation’s disadvantaged people to achieve an increased income equal to, or approaching the poverty line.
Australia is perfectly positioned to increase its ‘clean, green food’ provider status. We call for increased federal funding for the farming sector, social enterprises and research to increase food production, export and security, particularly in remote, regional and disadvantaged communities in Australia. Focussing on supporting the production and dissemination, nationally and internationally, of healthy, locally grown, high quality Australian food, we believe that an increase in funding to the farming sector is not only necessary but positions Australia well into the future as food increasingly becomes the global number one commodity.
We know that this will have a positive outcome – not only nutritionally, but also economically in areas and communities who need economic stimulus.
This is about dignity. A hand up, not a hand out.
Where there’s Hetty, there’s hope!
 John Daley & Brendan Coates (March 2018), Housing Affordability. Re-Imagining the Australian Dream, Grattan Institute.
 ACOSS and UNSW Sydney (2018) Poverty in Australia 2018.