Government out of touch on housing policies ahead of budget: poll

Government out of touch on housing policies ahead of budget: poll
Government out of touch on housing policies ahead of budget: poll

The Conversation


Australians are concerned about housing affordability, so much so that 45.4 percent say they would be willing to see the value of their home stop growing to improve the situation, only 31.8 percent of those polled wouldn’t. 

An ANU poll shows 51.7 percent of Australians are also in favour of removing tax concessions like negative gearing.

The poll surveyed 2,513 people (representative of the population) and found 63.6 percent were willing to see an increase in supply of public housing. Only 32.3 percent are opposed to relaxing planning restrictions. 

With these numbers in mind, it is perhaps surprising that state and federal governments have done so little of any substance in housing policy for decades, if anything they’ve contributed to the problem rather than improved the situation.

Potential policy changes that many believe will improve housing affordability, including removing or reducing tax incentives such as the capital gains tax discount or removing supply impediments, have all been considered too politically difficult by the current government.

The government has justified this by playing to the fear that the value of people’s home may decline or that more liberal planning arrangements may mean that new buildings may spoil the look and feel of local neighbourhoods. 

The latest ANUpoll shows Australians are very concerned that future generations may be locked out of home ownership. Three quarters believe home ownership is part of the Australian way of life.

In terms of their own investments we found that nearly 68 percent of homeowners cite emotional security, stability and belonging as a reason for becoming a homeowner. In terms of security factors, 51 percent cite financial security, 42 percent refer to “renting is dead money” and 41 percent cite security of tenure and being able to “bang nails in the wall”. 

Of those families who have an investment property (17 percent in this poll) the primary motivation for the investment was a “secure place to store money” (27.4 percent) closely followed by rental income (24.3 percent). Only 11.9 percent cited negative gearing as the primary motivator and 13.7 percent were motivated primarily by the capital gains discount. 

Housing remains easily the most popular investment vehicle, with 30 percent saying their preferred investment for spare cash would be an investment property, followed by 18.5 percent preferring to upgrade their own home. Only 12.6 percent preferred shares as an investment. 

In spite of recent talk of a housing bubble the general population is not particularly concerned with immediate price drops, with 85 percent expecting house prices to rise over the coming five years. Only 5.4 percent expect prices to fall and just 1.7 percent expect prices to decrease a lot.

If interest rates were to increase by 2 percentage points, 6.4 percent of mortgage holders expected to be in “a lot” of financial difficulty and 16.7 percent in “quite a bit”. Only 27.9 percent would be in no difficulty. While financial difficulty does not mean default, in mortgage markets it may not take a large share of loans to default to cause financial problems for an economy.

As pointed out earlier negative gearing was the least cited reason for property investment which suggests removing the incentive would at least not make a dramatic difference to the level of housing investment in Australia.

The ANUpoll shows that the public are concerned about housing affordability and where policy is directed at improving affordability they are likely to be supportive. The policy options, be they demand side - reducing tax incentives, or supply side - building more dwellings and/or relaxing planning restrictions, are available, but greater political nerve may be required to undertake such options.

Ben Phillips is associate professor, Centre for Social Research and Methods (CSRM), Australian National University and author for The Conversation.

He can be contacted here.

Housing Affordability Taxation

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