“If you’ve been putting off that renovation or new build, the extra $25,000 we’re putting on the table, along with record-low interest rates, means now’s the time to get started,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he announced details of the government’s HomeBuilder program.
The aim is to boost demand in the construction sector and keep builders employed. But will it assist the right people to improve their lives?
Callers to various radio stations this morning are adamant it will not, as are key welfare agencies.
“I live in north Queensland and my back steps are falling down and unsafe. I can’t afford to fix them. But this will not help me,” said one caller.
Another said: “I’m 76 and my bathroom needs a major update to seal leakages and repair flooring. I qualify from an income perspective but I can’t spend $150,000 [the minimum required spend for a renovation].”
And another: “I live in the country and would love to take advantage of this scheme, but my house is only valued at $75,000 so I’m out of luck.”
HomeBuilder offers grants of $25,000 to eligible owner-occupiers – individuals who earned up to $125,000 last financial year or couples who earned up to $200,000 – who want to build a new home or substantially renovate an existing one. But … you need to be planning to build a new home valued at up to $750,000 (including land) or wish to renovate your home, valued at less than $1.5 million, with works of between $150,000 and $750,000.
There is no plan – at least none that has been announced – to provide for people such as those above or more social housing. And renters are left high and dry.
Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers describes the program as a “lost opportunity”.
“Renters are on the frontline of this downturn,” she said. “Many are losing their incomes, and some are scared of losing their homes.
“Anglicare Australia’s 2020 Rental Affordability Snapshot shows that renters on low incomes were in crisis even before the pandemic. With this downturn due to last for years and so many Australians losing their jobs, record numbers of people are at risk of poverty and homelessness.”
She says there is a shortfall of 500,000 social and affordable rentals across the country, and a homelessness crisis that is getting worse. A simple solution would be to finance more social housing, she says, arguing that more people would get a roof over their heads and the economy would get a badly needed boost.
“Today’s announcement was a lost opportunity to end our social housing shortfall and help people in need. Instead we’re back to business as usual – handing out money to people who can already afford to renovate or invest,” Ms Chambers said.
“Social housing projects would create more jobs than renovations or grants for new builds. Modelling released just yesterday shows that social housing investment would boost construction by $15.7 billion and boost GDP by $6.7 billion.
“It would also create 24,500 jobs in the regions that need them the most.
“This kind of boost is much stronger than lining the kitchens and bathrooms of people who can already afford it.”
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has also condemned the scheme.
Chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie says the recession will see more and more people struggling to pay rent, leading to greater homelessness and placing more pressure on social housing.
“We should be focusing on ensuring everyone has a roof over their head, not on government support for people who are relatively well off to upgrade their roofs,” she says.
“We have a massive shortfall of social housing and there is clear agreement from Master Builders Australia, the CFMEU and community groups for a national social housing construction program of about 30,000 homes.
“There is also dire need for repairs and renovations of existing social housing dwellings that workers could get started on next week.”
Dr Goldie argues that such funds should also be used to install solar panels and improve energy efficiency in low-income homes to ease the winter bill shock.
“We must work together to get out of this recession, not leave people behind and out in the cold without a home,” she said.
Shadow housing minister Jason Clare has also questioned the targeting of the $688 million scheme, arguing that “not everyone has $150,000” to throw around.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said while there was “nothing wrong with supporting private housing”, the government needed to have a comprehensive plan that also dealt with social housing. “That’s the big weakness in the package,” he said.
Are you supportive of HomeBuilder? Is it money going to the wrong people? Have low-income Australians been overlooked?
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