Radio Interview with Glen Bartholomew – ABC Newsradio – Wednesday 10 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Housing crisis in regional Australia; Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; Morrison Government’s failure to invest in social and affordable housing. 
GLEN BARTHOLOMEW, HOST: In many of our regional areas, we’ve heard on this network for some time, housing costs have gone through the roof. The shift to working from home during the pandemic has allowed people to move out of cities, and keep doing their jobs in regional Australia where life is easier and often cheaper. But the tree and sea changes have pushed up house prices in those regional areas. In the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions on the South Coast of New South Wales, for example, house prices have jumped 35 per cent in the last 12 months, and that’s locking people out of the market. Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness. He’s also a local MP and he’s been in Nowra, in that area today, speaking to people about the impact this is having.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: They’re telling me that it’s harder to buy a house down here than it’s ever been. Prices have jumped by 35 per cent here just in the last 12 months and along with that, it’s getting harder to rent as well. The cost to rent down here on the South Coast has jumped three or four times what it has in Sydney in the last 12 months. So, it’s harder to buy and harder to rent. But one of the flow on consequences of that is that more people are reaching out for help from charities, whether that’s for clothes for the kids, or a food voucher. I just spoke to one organisation that said the number of people walking in their door asking for help to put a roof over their head is triple what it was a year ago.

BARTHOLOMEW: Why is it happening? Is the main cause of this problem people moving from Sydney alone?

CLARE: That’s part of it. The massive jump in the cost of housing has been driven by two things. One, low interest rates. The second is through the pandemic a lot of people leaving capital cities and moving to the regions. While house prices have jumped by 20 per cent right across the country in the last year, we’re seeing house prices in the regions jump by a hell of a lot more than that. And it’s not just here on the South Coast. On the Central Coast of New South Wales, you’ve seen the same jump of about 30 or  35 per cent for the cost of housing. It’s the same on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, or in central Queensland. Places like Rockhampton, property prices have jumped by 27 per cent. Tasmania is exactly the same as well. You’ve seen these massive jumps in the cost of housing as people have moved from capital cities to the regions. One, because they wanted to get out of town when the pandemic hit and two, because one of the things the last 18 months has taught us is that you can have a job in the city but work from the regions.

BARTHOLOMEW: So what are the options for people who are now finding themselves unable to afford rent increases in their towns?

CLARE: The dire situation that a lot of people find themselves in here is that they find themselves homeless. I haven’t mentioned that but one of the other side effects of COVID has been an increase in domestic violence rates and an increase in the number of women and their kids knocking on the doors of refuges seeking help sometimes in the middle of the night. In the last year, we’ve had 10,000 women and kids turned away from refuges because they’re full and it’s forced them to either sleep in the car or go back to the place where the violence was happening. One refuge here that I met with this morning tell me they’ve got six beds, they’re all full, and they’ve got a waiting list of 60 people. I just heard another story from an organisation here about a young woman who’s got an 18 month old baby boy and a newborn child forced to flee after suffering extraordinary violence, and that newborn baby slept in the passenger seat last night in the car. Go up to Byron Bay and you find something even more extraordinary. The police commander told me there a couple of months ago that there’s no refuge in town and they think there’s about 400 women sleeping in cars around Byron Bay at the moment.

BARTHOLOMEW: More broadly, the federal government does have rental assistance programs. Do they go far enough? Do they work?

CLARE: They certainly provide help to people in the private rental market, they provide a bit of support there, but there’s more the federal government can do. The federal government normally says ‘look, we’re doing that, that’s enough. It’s up to the state governments to build more social and affordable housing’. This rubbish.

BARTHOLOMEW: So would Labor move to introduce some sort of national public housing policy?

CLARE: We already have Glen, in the Budget reply speech this year, Anthony Albanese said that if we win the next election, we’ll set up the Housing Australia Future Fund, a $10 billion fund invested and the money that that fund makes would be used to build social and affordable housing right around the country. But in particular, in places where there’s a chronic shortage of affordable housing. Places like the South Coast where I am today, and it would build 30,000 homes over the course of the first five years and 4000 of those would be for women and kids fleeing domestic violence. That would be the biggest investment in providing permanent housing for women and kids fleeing domestic violence that the Commonwealth has ever done in the history of this country.

BARTHOLOMEW: What about the broader picture though? This housing boom doesn’t show any sign of ending anytime soon. We’re expecting interest rates to stay low for a little longer yet. What is this going to mean for people who perhaps get priced out of their own communities?

CLARE: This is the other side of the story that people are telling me here on the South Coast, which is ‘mum and dad’s house has gone up in value and that’s great for them, but I don’t think that I can afford to buy here’. And gone are the days when Sydney was expensive but the regions were cheap. The regions are through the roof here as well and people are saying ‘where is it cheap for me to buy?’. Some people are lucky, if you can call it lucky, that mum and dad can go guarantor on a loan and help them out. But if you don’t have that help for Mum and Dad, it’s all but impossible to be able to buy a house in many parts of the country. So more and more people give up and if they’re forced to rent with rents going up like they are right across the country, it means less money to pay the rent to save up for a deposit, let alone put food on the table for the family.

BARTHOLOMEW: That’s Jason Clare, who’s the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness representing the Labor Party and telling us exactly what people in New South Wales regional areas but telling him today about the reality of trying to afford housing, either renting or buying, at the moment. A story we’ve all heard a lot about, but nothing’s changing just yet.