Australia is embarking on another Inquiry into housing affordability. In the past decade almost every government body, at every level of government, that has any function related to any aspect of housing policy, has conducted similar inquiries. With zero results.
Is it time we stopped pretending to care?
I made a submission (pdf here) to the inquiry, not because I think things will change, but to highlight the ‘big picture’ considerations in any housing policy. You know, the ones we don’t talk about because the Overton window has been slammed shut by decades of well-funded propaganda by wealthy interest groups. Just look at the content of other submissions to see how they miss the big picture, either simply promoting their own financial interests or preserving their reputation by reiterating arguments deemed acceptable in polite company.
My main point is this – any policy that successfully reduces housing rents, and subsequently home prices, entails a massive redistribution of wealth from the richest to the poorest. I wrote the following in my submission.
At current prices Australia’s total housing stock is valued at around $5 trillion. If a policy successfully reduced rents and prices by 20% it would wipe $1 trillion of value from this market. Purchasing power of around $40 billion per year would be redistributed from the almost 6 million current home owning households and 1.8 million residential property investors, to the 2.8 million renters, along with future home buyers and owners of other non-residential domestic assets.
There is no win-win scenario. Housing affordability is almost completely a question about the distribution of wealth in society.
To understand the magnitude of potential redistribution from successful policy to improve housing affordability, a reduction in housing rents by even as little as 10%, would lead to possibly the largest redistribution of wealth from the richest to the poorest in Australia’s recent history.
Politically it makes sense to pander to the majority. And while the majority of households still own their own home, absolutely nothing will be done to reduce rents and home prices. Even the ridiculous fig leaf of the First Home Owners Grant is actually a subsidy to existing home owners. It’s the most fantastical piece of doublespeak to not call it what it really is – the Current Home Owners Grant.
This is the elephant in the room on housing policy. Here. Right here. I’m pointing at it.
Watch me be ignored.