Advocates are urging the government to go back to the future to tackle regional Australia’s housing crisis and unearth the policies that fuelled the building booms of the past.
A lack of residential supply in country Australia is bleeding renters dry and driving workers away from where they’re needed most, but the private market is unable to keep up with demand.
Helen Haines, independent MP for the rural Victorian seat of Indi, said the issue called for an urgent solution but urged the government to take inspiration from a snail.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Ms Haines evoked the population boom after the end of World War II.
As the nation faced a shortfall of 350,000 homes, policymakers grappled with a familiar shortage of construction materials and skilled labourers.
So the government of the time devised Operation Snail, a plan to fund pre-fabricated homes that resulted in new dwellings being built at a rate of 40 per week.
“With record rises in rent and mortgage stress, and a lack of housing availability like we have never seen before in regional Australia, we’ve got to think creatively,” she said.
Ms Haines called for new solutions at all levels, including incentivising more medium-density development, building more social housing and allocating more homes for key workers.
“We’ve emerged from a huge global disruption and it’s absolutely incumbent upon us now … to disrupt our thinking about the old housing paradigm,” she said.
Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers endorsed a return to the interventionist policies of the 1940s and ’50s, saying the private sector had failed to build adequate housing supply.
“It still beggars belief that a country like Australia has this kind of housing crisis,” she said.
“The private market is not providing affordable housing. It simply isn’t. We’ve got to try something else.”
A government-funded public works program would also help protect against the economic challenges faced by the construction industry, she said, as more and more builders were going bust, leaving projects unfinished and workers out of a job.
Ms Haines reiterated her proposition for a $2 billion regional housing infrastructure fund that would unlock investment in new houses by building critical infrastructure.
“My proposal targets the regions so we can build the roads, the streetlights, the poles, the wires, the community centres, the gardens, the rural landscapes that we need to have beautiful amenity and a fantastic neighbourhood,” she said.
Real Estate Institute of Australia chief executive Anna Neelagama said mixed-use developments in Melbourne, where a certain amount of dwellings were set aside for essential workers, could provide a model for regional areas unable to attract doctors and teachers because of a lack of homes.
(Australian Associated Press)