Economically, this has happened because, at a time when the price of everything we buy is rising faster than our wages, rents have been positively shooting up. Why? Because, suddenly, there are so few vacancies; because the number of people needing to rent almost exceeds the number of properties for rent.
Politically, the spotlight has turned on renters because the Greens have been taking votes from the two majors by billing themselves as the party for renters.
Meanwhile, the nation’s economists, whose usual focus has been on the way tax and pension rules have pushed up home prices by adding unduly to the demand for homes, have reached a new consensus that it’s really the inadequate supply of homes that’s the problem.
Right now, that’s obviously true – especially in the supply of rental accommodation. But if you look at our record over recent decades, supply hasn’t had much trouble keeping up with demand, so it’s not the main thing that’s pushed prices so high.
So, on the face of it, Albanese’s new agreement with the premiers to facilitate the building of 200,000 more homes than the previous target of 1 million extra homes, over the five years from next July, doesn’t seem such a big deal. Most of those probably would have been built anyway.
What’s different is that they have to be new “well-located” homes. Well-located means “close to existing public transport connections, amenities and employment”.
Get it? “Well-located” is code for medium- and high-density housing. Most people want to live close to the centre of capital cities – or at least close to good public transport to the city – and economists now believe it’s council zoning restrictions on high-rise that’s done most to drive up home prices “where people want to live”.
So, premiers Daniel Andrews and Chris Minns have signed up to more high-rise. But agreeing to targets is one thing; delivering them is quite another. The premiers will meet plenty of objections, obstructions and foot-dragging.
That’s the other thing that’s different about Albanese’s new deal. He’s offering $3.5 billion in “performance-based funding” to those states that achieve more than their share of the original 1 million target. Each of the further well-located 200,000 homes their state’s builders produce will bring the premier a $15,000 bonus.
You’ve heard what they say about getting between a premier and a bag of money, so let’s hope it works. Ditto the premiers’ promises to reach a national agreement requiring landlords to have reasonable grounds for eviction, limiting rent increases to once a year, and phasing in minimum quality standards for rental properties.
When it comes to getting premiers to agree on harmonising regulations, I wouldn’t hold my breath – unless there’s more money on the table, of course.
Ross Gittins is the economics editor.
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