Aussies aspire to more than public housing

Aussies aspire to more than public housing
Aussies aspire to more than public housing

An increase in population and income are two demand influencers on high dwelling rents and prices, according to the directors of Real Estate Research and Teaching for the UNSW Business School.

According to Nigel Stapledon's submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into Home Ownership, the rise in house prices it is not only happening in Australia, but all over the world. This is due to low interest across the world.

"In the period 1993-2003, population grew at a 1.1% annual pace, in the period 2003-13, it averaged 1.6%. At the margin, that extra 0.5% per annum is a very significant difference. This surge in population also changed expectations about future population growth, which in turn influenced expectations about future rent growth. If buyers expect the future rate of rent growth to be higher, that justifies higher prices." 

It is his belief that foreign buyers add to the pressure on prices, but the effect in the long term is not permanent.

"The broader point is that Australia is a major beneficiary of its open door to foreign capital. In the long term, Australia’s reputation as a secure, transparent place to invest is a positive. Apart from anything it lowers the cost of capital for governments, business and individuals. If we start imposing controls to help manage perceived short term problems, that will put that reputation at risk."

Taxation policy is not as important as the demand factors mentioned before. Nigel Stapledon says that a more efficient tax system is desirable but is not what affects housing.

"The real debate on the question of housing affordability is on the question of supply. There are a number of angles to this. 

"In economics, the margin is what matters. On the demand side, an increase in population growth rate from 1.1% to 1.6% per annum in the period 2003–13 caused rents to rise substantially. 

"Allowing for age composition effects, potential household formation lifted from 1.4% to 1.8%. That small marginal change mattered a lot. Because supply lagged in its response, most of the initial action was in higher rents, which worked to subdue demand (more young adults - potential new households – for example stayed at their parents’ home). 

"In period 2003-13, the stock of dwellings in Australia grew by an average 1.6% per annum – only slightly slower than potential household formation but the cumulative effect matters. With a lag, complicated by some big intervening events e.g. GFC (Global Financial Crisis), we are now seeing supply respond in a more substantial way. 

"In 2014 new completions increased the dwelling stock by 1.8%, and in 2015 and 2016 the pipeline of starts tells us that rate of growth will be running at a 2.0% pace. Bearing in mind that population growth has now slowed to a 1.4% pace (household formation below 1.6%), then clearly the demand-supply equation is shifting towards buyers/renters. The evidence of that is the deceleration in rent growth evident in 2014. It is the indicator to watch in 2015. 

"But imagine if the stock were to increase by more like 3% (double the normal) in 2015. That order of magnitude increase in supply would require lower rents/prices to encourage more households (those young adults staying at home) back into the market. Otherwise, there would be a lot of vacant new dwellings. 

"As the city’s population grows, if the green zone is unchanged, what urban economic theory tells us is that when the constraint becomes binding that the increase in demand will cause the price of land to rise. In response, buyers will choose smaller amounts of land consistent with the policy-makers’ desire for increased density. 

"While less land is used, which partially offsets the higher price per unit of land, it is only a partial offset and the price of housing rises. For the pre-existing stock of houses, the price rises and their owners (owner-occupiers and landlords) enjoy a capital gain. 

"The binding constraint will lead to pressure for some relaxation. To the extent that policy-makers relent and rezone some of the greenbelt land, the owners of that land will achieve significant capital gains. This leads to significant resources going into lobbying and a propensity for corruption. 

"The second policy option is to impose a development tax. This lifts the price of land and in response we again see smaller lots and increased density. If the tax is set at the right level, the same degree of increased density can be achieved as with quantitative controls. 

"One advantage of the development tax is that the development tax captures the capital gain which would be earned by owners of greenbelt land which is rezoned. A second advantage is that it keeps the market for land competitive. 

"I would note that constraints on higher density building in inner urban areas will also constrain supply and lead to higher rents/prices across the urban area. There are many such restrictions. For example the recent decision in NSW to impose a minimum size on apartments of 35 square metres will add to the cost of housing. 

"The cost of commuting (both in dollars and in time) is the most significant influence on the cost of land within cities. The higher are commuting costs from the urban fringe, the more valuable is living in the inner urban areas where commuting costs are low. 

"As a city grows, there is a need to add to the transport capacity (wider roads, more rail lines). If governments fail to expand the transport infrastructure, congestion rises and lifts commuter costs. 

"There is strong advocacy for public/social housing, which represents less than 3% of the housing stock, to be a much bigger part of the market. At its peak in 1971, public housing represented closer to 6% of total housing stock. 

"There is a place for public housing but do young Australians see it as the answer to their future housing needs. I suspect they all aspire to something better. It is seen as a safety net. 

"Aspirations aside, public housing is heavily subsidised. And as the cost of housing rises in a city, so too does the cost of subsidising public housing. It follow that policies which make the cost of private housing lower also lowers the cost to the taxpayer of providing any given amount of public housing."

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