Policies to support home ownership sit at the very centre of Australia’s cultural identity.
The Federal election reinforced that with major and minor parties alike selling ideas that they believed might make it easier to own your own home.
But I don’t think any of them really got there. And there are some good reasons for why.
The whole home ownership debate pits existing owners and new buyers against each other. Let’s look at that conflict.
Homeowners want good returns for possibly their biggest ever asset. Those returns are best guaranteed if the supply of new dwellings can be constrained, if governments provide tax relief to investors, if there is a steady stream of new investment – upgraded roads, shops, etc – and throw in a bit of inflation to help push prices along.
Conversely, new homeowners are looking for government to keep prices low. Best done by encouraging lots of new building, putting limits on tax concessions to investors, keeping interest rates low by squeezing inflation, and offering buyer incentives.
Finding a middle ground is a bit like walking a tightrope across Kings Canyon – doable perhaps, but very scary.
And yet there is no question that we do need to find a solution. We owe it to every generation coming through.
The first thing that we should do is give up on thinking that we have one national housing market. The truth is circumstances in Sydney are way different to those in Darwin.
And Darwin is way different again to Katherine, Tennant Creek or Alice Springs. It is why we need to take a place-based approach in tune with each separate market.
Next, we need to set a target for home ownership levels. Not everyone will want to own their own home for sure. But it seems a little crazy to me that we all agree that home ownership is central to a stable society and a way to build wealth, but then we have no target to make it happen.
Just imagine if we had a home ownership target in the NT of, say, 70 percent. We would be doing so many things differently today.
I also feel strongly that we must stop the sleight of hand where fresh costs are shoved invisibly onto new home buyers. Every time the National Construction Code changes, or there is a new set of subdivision guidelines, those costs go straight onto their project bill. But they don’t have a voice in any rooms where those decisions are made.
And we also need a long-term approach to incentives. New home owners pay a tax burden that few others ever see. Their GST bill alone is $50,000-60,000. Then State and Territory governments take another clip with stamp duty, sometimes as much as $20,000-30,000. And here in the Territory, government takes a further clip on the purchase price of land more often than not.
Add all that up and it is way over the top. Is it too much to ask to hand some of that money back to help them build a deposit?
Most of all though we need a champion for new home buyers. Someone who will stand up for their interests and who will chase down our target for home ownership.
Someone who understands the complexity of markets and the natural tension between existing and new owners.
And someone who buys in to helping people to put down roots in the Territory.
Very much tongue-in-cheek, I call that person our housing czar. Any takers?