How Labor’s “Off-Budget” Housing Fund Will Work

In his budget reply speech on Friday, Labor leader Anthony Albanese announced a headline proposal to set up a $10 billion “off-budget” fund for housing. The fund, however, would not figure in the government budget, and would deliver 20,000 homes in its first five years.

The fund is a landmark in federal policy. Public housing in Australia has historically been considered a state responsibility, but the states have far less funding available to them than the federal government.

But how do you get to 20,000 units from $10 billion?

Albanese’s program is not a policy spend in the usual sense. Instead, it proposes to borrow $10 billion to set up a Housing Australia Future Fund.

The returns will then be invested in building more social housing, like the council home Albanese himself grew up in, as he reminded Australia on Friday.

“Our home gave us so much more than somewhere to sleep,” he said in his speech to parliament. “It gave my mum and I pride and dignity and security, and it gave me a future, a future that led me here tonight.”

It remains unclear what kind of returns Australia can expect from the housing fund, nor the interest payable on the loan. Debt has blown out to 43.8% of GDP under the LNP since 2013, when the rate stood at 10.4%, yet interest rates remain near historic lows.

As part of the Labor policy proposal, one-fifth of the social housing stock would be allocated to women and families escaping domestic violence. According to advocacy group Everybody’s Home, one-third of the 54,000 people who fled domestic violence last year were turned away by public housing and homelessness services.

A North Melbourne public housing proposal (image courtesy of ArchitectureAU).

Albanese’s plan also includes 10,000 subsidised homes for public sector workers: nurses, firefighters, police officers. There is little affordable housing for these workers in the inner city, even though they often work odd hours and need to reside close to their place of employment.

The Australian Council of Social Services welcomed the housing proposal. “While this won’t meet the full housing needs of people on low incomes and in housing crisis,” said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie, “the fund would exist in perpetuity, providing a sustainable funding base to give more Australians greater housing options.”

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