9 March 2020

Social Housing Needs Investment Backing to lead Growth and Economic Rebound

The investment community has a unique and vital role to play in joining forces with the social sector to develop large scale investment in affordable housing, the Australian Investment Council’s 2020 Gala Dinner was told in a keynote address by Australian Council of Social Service’s CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

Housing could provide a powerful economic stimulus at a time when the Federal Government was seeking to stimulate economic activity, she said. “You, in the investor community, absolutely hold some of the biggest keys. ACOSS, and many across the social sector, has been pushing hard for governments to finally do their bit to help us deliver the asset class – a large scale investment in social and affordable housing that this nation desperately needs.

“I don’t need to tell people in this room that we have the most expensive housing in the world. Right now, there is a national shortage of just over 400,000 affordable homes for people who are at risk of homelessness or living on the very lowest income. Last year Anglicare did research to confirm that if someone was looking for a rental property in which to live and were on Newstart, there were only two properties nationally that were affordable on that income. The main reason is that we have had three decades of declining investment in social housing.”

Dr Goldie said the investment community was able to “get in the right rooms” to bring government to the table to get good things done. “Back in the 1950s, a pension fund in the US was one of the first to deliver all of its capital to building affordable housing for its community. This is not a new idea. We have (since) seen some exciting developments in private investment into affordable housing.” 

What was required now was a government payment to help get people over the line. She quoted the example of Social Ventures Australia, which had recently launched a disability housing fund called Synergis. “It has been designed to attract private investment into the development of badly needed homes for people with a disability. It’s an exciting development that we hope proves viable and continues to build confidence, that if the financing is right, we can do a lot together.”

She noted that many people in Australia were financially, extremely vulnerable. In recent days, ACOSS and the University of NSW had released research showing one-in-eight people, including one-in-six children, live below the poverty line. The numbers totalled well over 7 million people. “Far too many people are financially extremely vulnerable.”

She noted that the upcoming Federal Government stimulus package should focus on those who needed it most, and she called for an increase in Newstart. “It is an absolute disgrace that we have not seen it increase in real terms for over 25 years, during all that period of our famed economic growth. Right now, people who are not able to get a job are trying to get by on $40-per-day. They struggle to get a foot back into the labour market. Food has become a discretionary item during this situation. Often the lights are off. Often the heating is not on. Nor is the cooling. Almost one million people are affected by this every day. Lifting NewStart is the single most effective way to reduce dramatically the level of poverty in Australia, virtually overnight.

“What is encouraging for me to see is the discussion within the investment community about using the serious powers you have to change this picture. To be able to ask the right questions and lift up the standards that we bring to people’s working lives.

“As investors, you can contribute the private capital that we need to boost the construction of infrastructure that would change the quality of life for hundreds of thousands in the community. Did I mention housing? As employers, we can all offer decent wages and conditions, developing those training programs, opening those doors desperately needed to help people who are most seriously disadvantaged in the labour market. What are companies doing about that?

“And influencers. Let’s leverage our power for good. Speaking up, supporting policies that would absolutely deliver the best and broadest benefits for our society and for our economy even when it does hurt your bottom line, sometimes. We are so much more powerful when our voices are combined. Now is the time for us to act with integrity, with courage, compassion, with respect for difference in every move we make, in every room we are in. If you can’t find the room, create one.