Housing has long been recognised as an issue that no state government can address on its own. Participation by federal and local governments, as well as community and not-for-profit providers and private industry, is required for a balanced system that reduces cost and maximises choice.
In 2020, 1 in 5 (200,000) households were estimated to need some form of housing assistance from the WA Government. By 2030, 45,000 additional households are likely to need assistance.
Housing affordability is an entrenched structural issue across Australia, influenced by economic and social conditions that sit outside the housing market, including population growth, household economics and access to finance. Australia is currently facing a period of peak demand for housing – amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic – affecting those most susceptible to price increases, who may be forced out of rental and ownership markets. WA’s social housing asset base is also ageing, inefficient and often misaligned with community need. A substantial proportion of state-owned housing stock is approaching end-of life. Without substantial ongoing investment and maintenance, operating costs will continue to increase, and assets will be lost at a rate greater than can be replaced.
Sector challenges and opportunities
Housing is often described in terms of a continuum, reflecting varying levels and types of housing need and support. Social housing refers to subsidised rental dwellings for very-low to low-income households owned or managed by the state government (public housing), or not-for-profit organisations and local governments (community housing). Together with other supported and crisis accommodation services, social housing provides a critical safety net for the most vulnerable in the community.
The WA Housing Strategy 2020–2030 target is for 6% net growth of social housing by 2030. Given the trends, this is unlikely to adequately respond to latent and growing demand and housing stress. As a proportion of total housing stock, social housing (comprising both public and community housing) in WA has declined from 4.1% to 3.8% in the 5 years to 2020.
Monitoring and continued investment in affordable housing mechanisms will be critical, particularly noting the immediate focus on social housing, the strong property market conditions impacting housing availability and increasing costs, and the upcoming ceasing of significant National Rental Affordability Scheme allocations. Additional affordable housing mechanisms requiring state government support may need to be considered where progress towards established targets has to be escalated.
The availability of fit for purpose key worker and government officer housing is critical to respond to service need, and positively contributes to regional economic activity and liveability. Housing is an important, and often limiting, factor in attracting and retaining employees to regional areas who, in turn, support local economic activity and deliver government and community services such as health, policing and education. Some regional housing markets can be highly volatile and challenging to forecast. In locations subject to highly cyclical economies, particularly in many of WA’s mining and resources centres, local housing markets can swing between acute shortages with extraordinarily high costs and gluts leading to investor exodus.
The critical importance of improved standards of living and wellbeing for Aboriginal people is well recognised. Despite a range of programs and funding streams that seek to respond to housing needs for Aboriginal people across urban, regional and remote settings, progress to improve Aboriginal housing outcomes has been slow. Place-based analysis of housing needs, conditions, market activity and active housing programs and providers is critical to understanding and appropriately responding to housing priorities. Fit for purpose housing requires an understanding of the diverse housing needs of a range of community cohorts.
Substantial recent investment to boost homelessness services and the supply of social housing stock to 2025–26 have been welcomed by sector stakeholders. Beyond the next 4 years, the sector will require a sustained, transparent investment program to facilitate longer-term strategic asset and program planning.
Affordable housing programs bridge the gap between social housing and affordability of the housing market. Along with investment in social housing, adequate support for community members who would otherwise struggle to access appropriate housing in the market is critical. Monitoring and amending policy settings for a well-functioning housing market that is accessible to those on low to moderate incomes is vital to reduce pressure on social and affordable housing infrastructure.
While the sector will always require direct government participation, social and affordable housing is an asset class capable of attracting other sources of finance and service provision. Community Housing Organisations, for example, make a considerable contribution to social housing provision and can attract diverse funding, as well as offer a more tailored service and deliver housing choice to tenants.
The North West Aboriginal Housing Fund was established in 2016 to invest $200 million into initiatives intended to increase access to affordable, suitable and stable housing options for Aboriginal people living in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions. Ultimately, the fund aims to facilitate social and economic independence and wellbeing for north-west Aboriginal people and communities through investment in diversified housing options for working Aboriginal families. For further information, refer to: https://www.wa.gov.au/organisation/department-of-communities/north-west-aboriginal-housing-fund.