The RBA On Housing Affordability

The RBA released their latest Bulletin today  and it contained an interesting section on Housing Accessibility For First Time Buyers.  They suggest that in many centers, new buyers are able to access the market, at the current low interest rates. But the barriers are significantly higher in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.

They also highlight that FHBs (generally being the most financially constrained buyers) are not always able to increase their loan size in response to lower interest rates because of lenders’ policies. Indeed, the average FHB loan size has been little changed over recent years while the gap between repeat buyers and FHBs’ average loan sizes has widened.

The article starts with an analysis of housing price-to-income ratios.

In Australia, the housing price-to-income ratio has increased since the early 1990s, and has increased particularly rapidly over the past five years to reach its highest level on record. At face value, this suggests that housing affordability is at a record low. However, this masks significant differences across states. The recent trend increase in the housing price-to-income ratio is largely due to increases in the ratios in New South Wales and Victoria (Graph 2). The housing price-to-income ratios have increased by less in other states in recent years and suggest that housing affordability in those states is at a similar level to the mid 2000s.

This housing affordability measure accounts for changes in average housing prices and household income. However, it ignores the effect of changes in interest rates on borrowing costs and other financial factors that may affect a household’s purchasing capacity and therefore their ability to purchase a home.

If interest rates fall, households can afford to repay a larger mortgage, all other things being equal. This would be reflected in a lower mortgage debt-servicing ratio, and would imply greater affordability. There is no role for changes to the deposit burden in the mortgage debt-servicing ratio, as the LVR is considered to be fixed. Looking at the trends over time, the aggregate mortgage debt-servicing ratio has risen over the
past year or so and is currently above the average of the inflation-targeting period but below historical peaks

There are significant state variations.

A shortcoming of the conventional estimates of housing affordability is that, by focussing on the average home price and average household income, they measure affordability for the average household. But the typical FHB is not the same as the average household – they tend to be younger and less wealthy. Also, if most FHBs buy homes that are cheaper than the average, then measures that focus on the average home will provide a poor guide to the ability of FHBs to purchase their first home (i.e. housing accessibility). To address these shortcomings, we construct a housing accessibility index that specifically focuses on the purchasing capacity of potential FHBs

This measure combines information from household surveys with data on all housing sale transactions in Australia. It shows housing accessibility is around the long-run average in aggregate in Australia, with the median potential FHB being able to afford around one-third of all homes sold in 2016, although this share is significantly lower in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Moreover, the quality of homes that potential FHBs can afford has fallen over time, as measured by location and the number of bedrooms. This measure also shows accessibility is lower in capital cities, particularly in areas close to the CBD.

The cost of renting is also an important component of housing affordability and the number of households renting has trended up over the past few decades. In aggregate, rents have grown broadly in line with household incomes, although rent-to-income ratios suggest housing costs for lower-income households have increased over the past decade.

Housing Affordability Improves For Some

From The Real Estate Conversation.

Housing affordability has improved across all states and territories, allowing for a large increase in the number of loans to first-home buyers, according to the September quarter edition of the Adelaide Bank/REIA Housing Affordability Report.

The report shows the proportion of median family income required to meet average loan repayments decreased by 1.2 percentage points over the quarter to 30.3 per cent. The result was decrease of 0.6 percentage points compared with the same quarter in 2016.

REIA president Malcolm Gunning said first-home buyers now make up 24.5 per cent of the total owner occupied housing market, excluding refinancing.

“This is the highest rate since September 2013,” he said, noting the rate had been dropping steadily for the last five years until this latest rise.

Gunning said the number of first home buyers increased by 22.8 per cent over the quarter and 32.6 per cent over the year.

Darren Kasehagen, Head of Business Development, Adelaide Bank said, “The increase in housing affordability across all states and territories is to be welcomed and is reflected by heightened activity in the number of first home buyers coming back into the market.

“Housing affordability is still a major issue in Sydney and Melbourne, but there are some bright spots in the latest report from the other capitals that are also worthy of note.

The largest increases in first-home buyers were New South Wales (up 57.7 per cent), Victoria (up 32.2 per cent), the Northern Territory (up 14.3 per cent) and the Australian Capital Territory (up 20.0 per cent).

“Nationally, the average loan size to first home buyers increased to $319,500, or by 0.6 per cent over the September quarter – but decreased by 0.1 per cent over the past twelve months,” said Kasehagen.

For all borrowers, the average loan size decreased to $380,900 with the total number of loans increasing by 4.2 per cent for the quarter or 12.5 per cent year on year.

Rental market affordability

The report shows varied affordability across rental markets.

“Over the quarter, the proportion of median family income required to meet rent payments increased by 0.3 percentage points to 24.6 per cent,” said Gunning.

Rental affordability improved in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, he said, and remained steady in Victoria but declined in New South Wales, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Western Australia recorded a “standout” result, said Kasehagen.

Western Australia knocked the ACT from their position of being the state or territory with the lowest proportion of family income devoted to meeting median rents. Western Australians only contribute 17.4 per cent of their family income to rent, according to the report. The figure for Canberra was 18.1 per cent.

“This bides well for future first home buyers in the West seeking to build a deposit and take the step toward eventual home ownership,” said Kasehagen.

In Canberra, 18.5 per cent of family income in Canberra was devoted to meeting average loan repayments – the lowest percentage in the country. The gap between renting and buying in Canberra is now only 0.4 per cent, said Kasehagen.

“An equation that may see more people now renting in the ACT deciding to take the step towards home ownership,” he said.

Adelaide Bank/REIA Housing Affordability Report: State by State

New South Wales

Over the September quarter, housing affordability in New South Wales improved with the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments decreasing to 36.1 per cent, a fall of 1.9 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 1.0 percentage points compared with the corresponding quarter 2016. With the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments 5.8 percentage points higher than the nation’s average, New South Wales remained the least affordable state or territory in which to buy a home.

In New South Wales, the number of loans to first home buyers increased to 6,775, an increase of 57.7 per cent over the quarter and a rise of 70.9 per cent compared to the September quarter 2016. Of the total number of first home buyers that purchased during the September quarter, 23.4 per cent were from New South Wales while first home buyers make up 19.0 per cent of the State’s owner-occupier market. The average loan to first home buyers decreased to $361,333, a decrease of 1.2 per cent over the quarter and a decrease of 1.0 per cent compared to the same quarter last year.

Rental affordability, declined in New South Wales over the September quarter with the proportion of income required to meet median rent payments increasing to 29.8 per cent, an increase of 1.2 percentage points over the September quarter and an increase of 1.7 percentage points compared to the same quarter last year.

Victoria

Over the September quarter, housing affordability improved in Victoria with the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments decreasing to 32.2 per cent, a decrease of 1.2 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 0.2 percentage points compared to the same quarter of the previous year.

The number of loans to first home buyers in Victoria increased to 8,786, an increase of 32.2 per cent over the quarter and an increase of 33.0 per cent compared to the September quarter 2016. Of the total number of first home buyers that purchased during the September quarter, 30.4 per cent were from Victoria while first home buyers make up 26.2 per cent of the State’s owner-occupier market.

Rental affordability in Victoria has remained steady over the quarter with the proportion of income required to meet median rent remaining at 23.1 per cent. Compared to the September quarter 2016, rental affordability has declined with the proportion of income required to median rent increasing by 0.2 percentage points.

Queensland

Housing affordability in Queensland improved over the September quarter with the proportion of income required to meet home loan repayments decreasing to 26.8 per cent, a decrease of 0.5 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 1.0 percentage points compared to the same quarter last year.

Over the September quarter, the number of loans to first home buyers in Queensland increased to 6,271, an increase of 4.5 per cent over the quarter and an increase of 18.5 per cent compared to the same quarter of 2016. Of all Australian first home buyers over the quarter, 21.7 per cent were from Queensland while the proportion of first home buyers of the State’s owner-occupier market was 26.1 per cent.

Rental affordability in Queensland improved over the quarter with the proportion of the median family income required to meet the median rent decreasing to 22.8 per cent, a decrease of 0.2 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 0.6 percentage points compared to the same quarter 2016.

South Australia

Over the September quarter, housing affordability in South Australia improved with the proportion of income required to meet monthly loan repayments decreasing to 25.3 per cent, a decrease of 1.5 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease 1.1 percentage points compared to the September quarter 2016.

Over the September quarter, the number of loans to first home buyers in South Australia increased to 1,385, an increase of 2.0 per cent over the quarter and an increase of 12.6 per cent compared to the September quarter 2016. Of all Australian first home buyers over the quarter, 4.8 per cent were from South Australia while the proportion of first home buyers in the state’s owner-occupier market was 19.2 per cent.

Rental affordability in South Australia also improved over the quarter with the proportion of income required to meet rent payments decreasing to 21.7 per cent, a decrease of 0.2 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 0.7 percentage points compared to the September quarter 2016.

Western Australia

Over the September quarter, housing affordability in Western Australia improved with the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments decreasing to 22.4 per cent, a decrease of 1.2 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 1.4 percentage points compared to the September quarter 2016.

The number of first home buyers in Western Australia increased to 4,432 in the September quarter, an increase of 7.4 per cent over the quarter and an increase of 17.9 per cent compared to the same time last year. Of all Australian first home buyers over the quarter, 15.3 per cent were from Western Australia while the proportion of first home buyers in the state’s owner-occupier market was 36.2 per cent.

Rental affordability in Western Australia also improved during the September quarter with the proportion of family income required to meet the median rent decreasing to 17.4 per cent, a decrease of 0.7 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 1.8 percentage points compared to the year before.

Tasmania

Housing affordability in Tasmania improved over the September quarter with the proportion of income required to meet home loan repayments decreasing to 23.3 per cent, a decrease of 0.6 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 0.5 percentage points from the September quarter 2016.

The number of first home buyers in Tasmania increased to 386, an increase of 1.6 per cent over the quarter but a decrease of 3.3 per cent compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Of all Australian first home buyers over the quarter, 1.3 per cent were from Tasmania while the proportion of first home buyers in the state’s owner-occupier market was 17.5 per cent.

Rental affordability in Tasmania, however, declined over the quarter with the proportion of income required to meet median rents increasing to 26.3 per cent, an increase of 0.5 percentage points over the quarter and an increase of 2.3 percentage from the same quarter 2016.

Northern Territory

Housing affordability in the Northern Territory improved with the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments decreasing to 19.4 per cent in the September quarter, a decrease of 0.9 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 1.1 percentage points when compared to the September quarter 2016.

The number of loans to first home buyers in the Northern Territory increased to 200, an increase of 14.3 per cent over the September quarter and an increase of 37.9 per cent compared to the September quarter 2016. Of all Australian first home buyers over the quarter, 0.7 per cent were from the Northern Territory while the proportion of first home buyers in the Territory’s owner-occupier market was 28.8 per cent.

Rental affordability in the Northern Territory also improved over the quarter with the proportion of income required to meet the median rent decreasing to 22.7 per cent, a decrease of 0.4 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 2.0 percentage points compared to the September quarter 2016.

Australian Capital Territory

Housing affordability in the Australian Capital Territory improved over the September quarter with the proportion of income required to meet home loan repayments decreasing to 18.5 per cent, a decrease of 1.3 percentage points over the quarter and a decrease of 1.5 percentage points compared to the same quarter last year.

The number of loans to first home buyers in the Australian Capital Territory increased to 684, an increase of 20.0 per cent over the quarter and an increase of 64.4 per cent compared to the September quarter 2016. Of all Australian first home buyers over the quarter, 2.4 per cent were from the Australian Capital Territory while the proportion of first home buyers in the Territory’s owner-occupier market was 26.8 per cent.

Rental affordability in the Australian Capital Territory, however, declined over the September quarter with the proportion of income required to meet the median rent increasing to 18.1 per cent, an increase 0.2 percentage points over the quarter and an increase of 0.8 percentage points compared to the September quarter 2016.

Housing – All About Supply and Demand; But Not What You Think

The Government view is high home prices is ultimately driven by lack of supply, relative to demand, including from migration. So the solution is to build more (flick pass to the States!). It has nothing to do with excessive debt, nor does the fact the average number of people per home is falling signify anything.  And tax policy is not the problem.

However, a new working paper “Regional housing supply and demand
in Australia” from the ANU Center for Social Research and Methods blows a mighty hole in that mantra.  They suggest that demand factors (availability of loans, tax concessions etc.) have a significant impact, while demand and supply equilibrium varies significantly across different regions, with some hot spots, and some where vacant property exists (yet prices remain high, because of these demand factors). Significantly, much of the surplus is in areas where high-rise development has been strong. We think this may signal further downward pressure on prices in these areas.

Over the year to June 2017 Australia built nearly 220,000 dwellings.  Construction rates of units and other attached housing have more than doubled this decade, with around 103,000 units, townhouses and terrace houses completed in the latest financial year. Most of these completions are high-rise units in Australia’s capital cities (which is why the average home size is falling). Detached house completions have also trended up in recent years, but the growth has been more modest. This paper accounts for differential in the type of stock being built, with detached housing supporting a greater number of persons per dwelling than units and townhouses.

The paper measures the gap between housing supply and demand at
a regional level in Australia. They have taken into account a range of complicating factors such as changing demographics, building types and the increase in unoccupied dwellings at the regional level.

Previous research efforts in Australia focus on national estimates of the housing ‘gap’ or shortage but here we recognise that housing markets tend to be regional and that house price movements and affordability are likely to be as influenced by local demand and supply conditions as by broad national conditions.

Between the years 2001 and 2017, we estimate the Australian housing market experienced an oversupply of 164,000 dwellings. However, there are significant regional differences with some regions experiencing significant undersupply while others have significant housing surpluses.

Nationally, we do find periods of significant undersuppy, particularly between 2007 and 2014 but for other periods beyond 2001 we find oversupply more than compensated.

The majority of Australia’s housing surplus is situated in the inner-city areas of its major capitals, with Inner Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney all oversupplied due to recent strong growth in unit developments. Many regional centres, particularly those in mining-sensitive areas such as North
Queensland and Western Australia, also retain housing surpluses.

Many regions in the middle and outer rings of our major capital cities, particularly Sydney, face modest housing shortages.

The modelling suggests that there is some evidence, albeit relatively weak, that a housing shortage is associated with higher house price growth.

The analysis exclusively concerns the concept of underlying demand, recognising that this may not be representative of the demand for housing in a traditional economics sense. The paper also acknowledges the limitations of the analysis in terms of both its conceptual basis and the data it relies on.

This paper does not conclude that people’s housing needs are being met or that what is being supplied is at an affordable price point for all families.

The lack of a housing shortage may have significant implications for housing policy in Australia and the economy more broadly. If Australia’s current record home-building levels are not balanced by a large housing shortage, then there is the risk that these current levels will reduce in the near future. Policy makers will also need to place greater emphasis on other potential drivers of house price growth and housing affordability, such as a range of demand influences.

Housing Affordability, A Complex Equation

Industry Super Australia, a research and advocacy body for Industry super funds, has published an excellent discussion paper on “Assisting Housing Affordability” which endeavors to identify the underlying causes of affordability issues, and to consider some useful policy responses in the current and historical context. They rightly consider both supply and demand related issues.

They call out specifically the impact of incoming migration, especially around university suburbs in the major centres as one major factor.

More broadly, they articulate the problem facing many, in that access to affordable housing – a basic need – is now more difficult than ever and the issue is affecting household spending decisions:

  • Key workers like police officers, teachers and nurses can’t afford to live near the communities they serve.
  • Children are staying at home for longer, marrying later and taking longer to save for a home deposit.
  • Many older Australians are locked into big houses that no longer suit their needs while a greater number of near retirees are renting or paying off a mortgage.
  • Commuters spend too much time on congested roads and trains which are now the norm in certain Australian cities.
  • More Australians are renting.

This has been a long standing issue, but they say from 2013 the problem of housing affordability became more serious.

Many property developers (small and large) entered the market, chasing short-term speculative capital gains. This coincided with a ramping up of student arrivals who drew on their parents’ savings (a safe haven strategy) to acquire bricks and mortar, usually near centres of education. Alarm bells did not ring for Australian governments, even though most new arrivals were settling in a limited number of localities. These factors and market dynamics combined to drive record house prices in key centres. The key drivers of low housing affordability are due to imbalances in demand and supply in certain key markets.

  • On the demand side, key factors include the extent of unanticipated or uncoordinated immigration flows to growth centres; the relationship between international student intake and the dynamics of foreign investment in established dwellings; the interaction between record low interest rates and investors chasing future capital gains via gearing-oriented tax concessions; and lax lending practices.
  • On the supply side, key factors include poorly coordinated land release and infills approvals and the outright restriction of supply by state governments; private land developers stockpiling tracks of land around the urban fringe, and restrictive town planning and zoning rules by local governments that have produced very long lead-times for the construction of new, denser housing stock in areas where affordability is worsening.

There are significant risks attached to ignoring affordability issues.

The lack of coordination in housing policy across all levels of Australian government has generated hotspots in property markets that have undermined macroeconomic stability. Destabilising wealth effects and the continuing expansion of household debt are feeding an unsustainable cycle of property price inflation. Net foreign indebtedness has risen to concerning levels for a small open economy that lacks a diversified economic structure and runs persistent current account deficits. Australia is far too dependent on property and pits (extraction of iron ore, coal and now liquefied natural gas) as the launch pad of its economic advance. This is very risky and may end in tears.

Booming house prices are good news for existing owners and bad news for those entering the market for the first time. Prospective buyers paying 2017 prices must have faith, at a time when even investment professionals believe a purchase now is, over the short to medium term, ill-advised. They must also have faith in their capacity to maintain an adequate income to service their debt, or hope that prices will just keep rising. In Sydney, where prices have risen 87 per cent over five years, whilst incomes have risen around 15 per cent on average, that is a tough call. Yet so many people (mostly Australians below age 35) have been prepared to take out home loans valued at over six times their income, facilitated by the relatively lax lending standards of banks.

The paper confirms the complexity which is housing affordability, and that there are no simple single point solutions.

The key findings of the paper are:

  • Australia’s housing affordability problem has developed over several decades and will require a long-term commitment by all levels of government to resolve.
  • Destabilising wealth effects and the continuing expansion of household debt are feeding a cycle of property price inflation which looks unsustainable.
  • Policy responses that increase the buying power of households (for example, through grants, or reduced taxes) will only increase demand, and therefore prices.
  • Ignoring the emerging crisis in assisted housing (affordable, public and community) now risks major future social and productivity costs.
  • Simply increasing overall housing stock will not ensure that more assisted housing becomes available. Instead, increasing the supply of assisted housing specifically is required.
  • Waitlists for social housing remain intractable and this system no longer serves as a safety net.
  • Achieving the necessary growth in assisted supply is beyond the capacity of Australian governments, and private investment is required.

To resolve the issues in assisted housing, Federal, state and local governments need to coordinate their activity without duplication or political interference. The core elements of any strategy will require:

  • A central body to provide rigorous housing supply forecasting, which will assist with planning.
  • Developing appropriate incentives (for example, tax policy) to encourage institutional investment in a new assisted housing asset class.
  • Expanding the capacity and professionalism of the community housing sector to deal with larger scale developments and tenant administration.

Additionally, some general policy suggestions to address broader housing affordability issues are as follows:

  • Explicitly linking state and local government planning and housing approvals to estimates of regional housing supply gaps.
  • Encouraging more work and student visa holders to reside outside of property market hot-spots.
  • Directing all foreign investment in residential property to new buildings.
  • Streamlining town planning procedures by mandating the removal of unreasonable height restrictions within urban infill development zones (including ‘inner’ and ‘middle-ring’ suburbs).
  • Discouraging land hoarding by identifying underutilised assets for redevelopment (including assisted housing), and providing recycling bonuses to incentivise the release of public and private sites.
  • Reorienting some current tax concessions for existing property towards investment in new housing and institutional investment in new assisted housing.
  • Reforming land taxes in Australia via the abolition of stamp duties and replacing them with a mix of land and betterment taxes.
  • Promoting stability around property – the largest asset class held by ordinary Australians.

Housing Affordability Eases for Some

The HIA says that despite the poor levels of housing affordability there are signs of improvement for home-buyers. Investors are not so lucky.

“The HIA Housing Affordability index for Australia improved by 0.5 per cent in the September 2017 quarter but still remains 4.4 per cent below the level recorded a year ago.

“Housing Affordability has been deteriorating in Australia for decades, particularly in capital cities, as demand for new housing greatly exceeded the supply.

“Recent interventions by the government, through APRA, to curb growth in investor activity may have improved affordability for owner-occupiers.

“As a consequence of this intervention it appears that the market has responded with higher mortgage rates for investors and eased rates for owner-occupiers.

“This has had the unintended consequence of improving housing affordability for owner-occupiers.

“Irrespective of intent, this is positive news for owner-occupier buyers in the affordability equation.

The HIA Affordability Index has been produced for more than 17 years using a range of recent data including wages, house prices and borrowing costs to provide an indication of the affordability of housing.

A higher index result signifies a more favourable affordability outcome.

“The Report’s regional analysis demonstrates the substantial differences in affordability conditions around the country,” added Mr Reardon.

“Sydney retains the mantle as the nation’s least affordable housing market despite the affordability index showing a modest improvement in affordability during the quarter. It still takes twice the average Sydney income to service a mortgage on a median priced home in Sydney while avoiding mortgage stress.

Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin all recorded modest improvements in affordability in the September quarter. Melbourne, Hobart and Canberra each recorded a modest deterioration in affordability during the quarter.

Mounting housing stress underscores need for expert council to guide wayward policymaking

From The Conversation.

A recent policy pledge by Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has given fresh heart to campaigners for the restoration of the former National Housing Supply Council (NHSC).

The Abbott government axed the council in 2013. With housing stress intensifying across much of Australia, a reinstated and revitalised council could strengthen policymaking in this contested area.

NHSC Mark 1

The Rudd government created the NSHC in 2008. The council’s role was to put housing policy on a sound base of evidence. It was guided by expert members drawn from the construction industry as well as senior planning, social housing, economics and academic ranks.

The council provided ministers with housing supply and demand estimates, projections and analysis. It also investigated the influence of infrastructure investment, housing-related taxation and urban planning. Its remit included a focus on:

… the factors affecting the supply and affordability of housing for families and other households in the lower half of the income distribution.

Importantly, NHSC reports explicitly recognised that untargeted supply-enhancing measures were not the sole answer to easing this group’s housing stress. The council also examined influences on housing demand. These included the price-stimulating effect of tax incentives for residential property investors.

The case for restoring the NHSC

Unaffordable housing and homelessness of course remain burning issues in national media and policy debate. Across most of the country, these problems have mounted since the NHSC’s demise.

In Sydney, for example, median house prices have climbed 40% since 2013. Rents are up by more than 12%. Average New South Wales earnings, however, have risen by only 8% in this time.

From 2011 to 2016, census data show that, nationwide, the proportion of tenants having to spend more than an “affordable” amount on rent rose in every state capital other than Perth. And latest published statistics reveal homelessness service users rising at 5% per year (2016 census data on this are still awaited).

Housing affordability is subject to complex influences – regulatory, economic, demographic and other factors. Most of these transcend state and territory boundaries, and many call for improved data. As a landmark official report acknowledged only last year, the lack of information essential to underpin housing policymaking is highly problematic.

 

Overcoming these data deficiencies would be central to the mission of a restored NHSC. This includes metrics on the supply pipelines of serviced land, dwelling demolitions and underused housing.

In its day, the NHSC drew support from many quarters, notably spanning the property industry and the affordable housing lobby. Leading property sector groups lamented its abolition. And, alongside Bowen, the Property Council of Australia is among recent advocates for NHSC reinstatement.

A government wanting to beef up its understanding of this area could assign a wider and more analytical role to other official data-gathering or research bodies. But neither the Australian Bureau of Statistics nor the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare possesses the in-house policy expertise or industry-connectedness to provide a credible alternative to a restored NHSC. And the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) is not set up for this role.

A reinstated NHSC can be improved

A new NHSC should be established by statute, not just by executive decision. This would strengthen its hand in obtaining required data from possibly reluctant state and territory ministries. In addition, this would provide more protection against arbitrary abolition by a future federal government in “wrecking mode”.

It will be vital that a reinstated NHSC’s remit includes a more granular, localised focus on supply and demand imbalances. Housing supply is only productive when suitably located in relation to jobs, infrastructure and services.

Housing provided needs to be of a type and configuration that matches demand, and at a price that people in that locality can comfortably afford. Property market conditions may be quite diverse even within a single capital city. Oversupply in one part of a metropolis can co-exist with shortages elsewhere.

Beyond calibrating overall housing demand and supply, the reborn NHSC must monitor the supply-demand balance by market segment, including low-cost rental. Similarly, the council’s former brief should be extended so it specifically assesses Australia’s unmet need for social and affordable housing. That’s both the current shortfall and the newly arising need predictable within a given period.

As recently instanced in Wales and Scotland, methodologies of this kind have a long lineage in UK housing policymaking. While Australia has residential stress metrics galore, none provide an ideal basis for government-supported rental housing construction. Such a program should be a central plank of national housing policy.

As Bowen has argued, a restored NHSC can also help hold states and territories to account for their supply commitments under the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. This is currently under negotiation between the two levels of government.

Reinstating the NHSC in a revitalised form would help government make more rational and informed policy choices on which supply and demand levers to pull to improve housing affordability. This is especially important for the lower-income renters who are doing it tough in cities like Sydney and Melbourne as well as in many other areas, such as the resort settlements along much of the east coast.

Stronger, better-founded evidence about the nature and extent of the affordable housing problem may help build consensus about how to tackle it effectively. And that is an outcome we badly need.

Authors: Hal Pawson, Associate Director – City Futures – Urban Policy and Strategy, City Futures Research Centre, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW; Oliver Frankel, Adjunct Professor, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

Government Consults on National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation

The Government, late on Friday night (!) before the school holidays, has issued a consultation on the formation of a new entity to help address housing affordability. The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation is central to the Government’s plan for housing affordability.

Actually, this simply extends the “Financialisation of Property” by extending the current market led mechanisms, on the assumption that more is better. Financialisation is, as the recent UN report said:

… structural changes in housing and financial markets and global investment whereby housing is treated as a commodity, a means of accumulating wealth and often as security for financial instruments that are traded and sold on global markets.

So, we are not so sure.  Also, we are not convinced housing supply problems have really created the sky-high prices and affordability issues at all.  And, by the way, the UK, on which much of this thinking is based, still has precisely the same issues as we do, too much debt, too high prices, flat incomes, etc.

Anyhow, the Treasury consultation is open for a month.  We will take a look at the three elements to the proposal:

  • The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) – a new corporate Commonwealth entity dedicated to improving housing affordability;
  • A $1 billion National Housing Infrastructure Facility (NHIF) which will use tailored financing to partner with local governments in funding infrastructure to unlock new housing supply; and
  • An affordable housing bond aggregator to drive efficiencies and cost savings in the provision of affordable housing by community housing providers.

They argue that Australians’ ability to access secure and affordable housing is under pressure and that housing supply has not kept up with demand, particularly in our major metropolitan areas, contributing to sustained strong growth in housing prices. This is impacting the ability of Australians to purchase their first home or find affordable rental accommodation.

The average time taken to save a 20 per cent deposit on a house in Sydney has grown from five to eight years in the past decade, while the time taken to save a similar deposit in Melbourne has grown from four to six years over the same period. Half of all low-income rental households in Australia’s capital cities spend more than 30 per cent of their household income on housing costs. Meanwhile, across Australia, community housing providers (CHPs) currently provide 80,000 dwellings to low-income households at sub-market rates, and around 40,000 Australians are currently on waiting lists for community housing and an additional 148,000 are on public housing waiting lists.

The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation is central to the Government’s plan for housing affordability

In the 2017–18 Budget, the Government announced a comprehensive housing affordability plan to improve outcomes across the housing continuum, focused on three key pillars: boosting the supply of housing and encouraging a more responsive housing market, including by unlocking Commonwealth land; creating the right financial incentives to improve housing outcomes for first-home buyers and low-to-middle-income Australians, including through the Government’s First Home Super Saver scheme; and improving outcomes in social housing and addressing homelessness, including through tax incentives to boost investment in affordable housing.

The Government’s plan includes establishing:

  1. the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) — a new corporate Commonwealth entity dedicated to improving housing affordability;
  2. a $1 billion National Housing Infrastructure Facility (NHIF) which will use tailored financing to partner with local governments (LGs) in funding infrastructure to unlock new housing supply; and
  3. an affordable housing bond aggregator to drive efficiencies and cost savings in CHP’s provision of affordable housing.

These measures are important but can only go so far in improving housing affordability. As noted by the Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG), further reforms to increase the supply of housing more broadly have the capacity to improve housing affordability and alleviate some of the pressure on the community housing sector. To this end, they would be complemented by the development of a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement with an increased focus on addressing housing affordability.

The Government’s objectives for the NHFIC reflect its priorities to improve affordable housing outcomes for Australians. The NHFIC intends to grow the community housing sector, and increase and accelerate the supply of housing where it is needed most.

Governance of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation

Entity structure – The NHFIC is expected to be established through legislation as a corporate Commonwealth entity. It will be a body corporate that has a separate legal personality from the Commonwealth, but will be subject to an investment mandate prescribed by the Treasurer that reflects the Government’s objective of improving housing outcomes. It is currently envisaged that both the NHIF and the affordable housing bond aggregator functions would be established as separate business lines within the single corporate entity. The final structure of the NHFIC will be determined in accordance with the Commonwealth Governance Structures Policy administered by the Department of Finance. The Governance Structures Policy provides an overarching framework to ascertain fit-for-purpose governance structures for all entities established by the Government. The NHFIC Board may also engage third-party providers with the requisite expertise to provide treasury, loan administration and other back-office support for its bond aggregator and/or NHIF business lines.

NHFIC Board

The Government intends to appoint an independent, skills-based Board to govern the NHFIC. Board members are expected to be selected by the Government on the basis of expertise in finance, law, government, housing, infrastructure and/or public policy. The Board will be responsible for the entity’s corporate governance, overseeing its affairs and operations. This includes establishing a corporate governance strategy, defining the entity’s risk appetite, monitoring performance and making decisions on capital usage. The Board will be responsible for ensuring that investment decisions made for the NHIF and the bond aggregator comply with the NHFIC investment mandate. The Board will also ensure that the NHFIC is governed according to best-practice corporate governance principles for financial institutions, including compliance with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act).

The affordable housing bond aggregator

The NHFIC will also operate an affordable housing bond aggregator designed to provide cheaper and longer-term finance to CHPs. CHPs are an important part of the Australian housing system. They provide accommodation services for social housing, managing public housing on behalf of state and territory governments. They also own their own stock of housing, which they offer to eligible tenants at below market rents. CHP tenants range from people on very low incomes with rents set at a proportion of their income (generally 25 to 30 per cent) to tenants on low to moderate incomes with rents set below the relevant market rates (usually set at 75 to 80 per cent of market rents).

Many CHPs (over 300) are registered either under the National Regulatory System for Community Housing (NRSCH) or other state and territory regulatory regimes (which is the case in Victoria and Western Australia).

Although the community housing sector has grown over recent years, it remains relatively small at around 80,000 properties (less than 1 per cent of all residential dwellings) in 2016. This is compared to more than 2.8 million properties (around 10 per cent of all residential dwellings) in the United Kingdom in 2015. There are substantial barriers to the community housing sector achieving the scale and capability necessary to meet current and future demand for affordable rental accommodation. These include the fragmentation of the sector, its limited financial capability (including the degree of financial sophistication), and the funding gap — the inability of sub-market rental revenues to cover the costs of providing affordable housing — which constrains the extent of services that CHPs can offer.

Bond aggregator model

The bond aggregator aims to assist in addressing the financing challenge faced by the CHP sector. It improves efficiency and scale by aggregating the lending requirements of multiple CHPs and financing those requirements by issuing bonds to institutional investors. The bond aggregator will act as an intermediary between CHPs and wholesale bond markets, raising funds on behalf of CHPs at potentially lower cost and over a longer term than traditional bank finance (which generally offer three to five-year loan terms). This structure will provide CHPs with a more efficient source of funds, reduce the refinancing risk faced by CHPs and will reduce their borrowing costs. This should enable CHPs to invest more in providing social and affordable rental housing.

However, the bond aggregator alone will not close the funding gap experienced by CHPs. This will require ongoing support from all levels of government. In their respective reports, the AHWG15 and Ernst and Young (EY) both highlight the important role of the bond aggregator, while noting that it is only a partial solution to closing the funding gap for CHPs.

Key findings of the EY report

Analysis undertaken by EY for the Affordable Housing Implementation Taskforce in 2017 found that an affordable housing bond aggregator is a viable prospect in the Australian context and recommended a number of design features. EY found that a bond aggregator could potentially provide longer tenor and lower cost finance to CHPs. The interest savings could be in the order of 0.9 to 1.4 percentage points for 10-year debt (depending on the level of Government support).

Furthermore, EY estimated that the CHP sector will need to access around $1.4 billion of debt over the next five years, which should provide the necessary demand and scale needed to support affordable housing bond issuances.

An affordable housing own goal for Scott Morrison

From The New Daily.

There was considerable shock on Friday when Treasurer Scott Morrison announced legislation that could block billions of dollars of new housing supply – bizarrely enough, in the name of ‘affordable housing’.

Property developers are aghast at Mr Morrison’s draft legislation, because although they see it as giving a small leg-up to the community housing sector, they think it will block literally billions of dollars in investment in mainstream rental dwellings.

Both measures relate to an established way of bringing together large pools of money from institutions or wealthy individuals as ‘managed investment trusts’ (MITs).

Mr Morrison’s draft law is offering MITs a 60 per cent capital gains tax discount for investing in developments run by recognised ‘community housing providers’, rather than the normal 50 per cent discount.

But at the same time the legislation bans MITs from investing in all other residential developments.

The reason that has shocked property developers is that they have been anticipating for some time that MITs would play a major role in the emerging ‘build-to-rent’ housing market.

Two types of build-to-rent

There is some confusion around the term ‘build-to-rent’ at present, because it is being used to describe two quite different kinds of housing, both of which are booming in the UK and US.

The first is a straightforward commercial proposition. A developer might build a 100-dwelling development – be it townhouses, low-rise apartments, or high-rise flats – but instead of selling off each home to speculators or owner-occupiers, it retains ownership and rents them out directly.

The second variation is similar, but involves government subsidies and the input of community housing providers, to keep rents low.

That model, being championed by the likes of shadow housing minister Doug Cameron, would connect large investors such as local super funds or overseas pension funds, with long-term investments that provide secure, good-quality rental properties to lower-income Australians.

So when you read the term ‘build-to-let’, have a look at who is using it – it could mean fancy apartments with swimming pools, gyms or other communal facilities, or just decent housing that cash-strapped people can afford.

A fatal contradiction

What’s so surprising about Mr Morrison’s two new measures, is that they appear to work against each other.

One is trying to push rents down for low-income groups squeezed out of the mainstream market, but the other looks to crimp supply in the mainstream market and thereby push rents up.

That would be a big mistake, because both kinds of new dwellings are needed as our increasingly dysfunctional capital cities look for ways to ‘retro-fit’ sprawling suburbs with higher-density housing.

For many years now I have complained that the housing market didn’t have to get to this point – negative gearing and the capital gains tax breaks that have helped push home ownership out of reach of many Australians should have been reined in years ago.

But they were not, and the market, and the economy more generally, has become dangerously unbalanced by the housing credit bubble that those tax breaks created.

If that imbalance is successfully unwound – by wages catching up to house prices – it will be a small miracle, but it will also take a long time.

In the meantime, increasing housing supply in the right areas of our capital cities is a good way to keep a lid on prices, albeit rents rather then purchase prices – though an abundance of good rental properties can lower those, too.

That is what Mr Morrison’s draft legislation is jeopardising.

Labor, as you might expect, has slammed the ban on MIT investments, which shadow treasurer Chris Bowen says “has completely ambushed the property and construction sector”.

Much rarer, is for the Treasurer to be at odds with the Property Council – the lobby group he worked for between 1989 and 1995.

But it has also been scathing of the change.

It said on Friday: “The answer to Australia’s housing problem is more supply. Build to rent has the potential to harness new investment that could deliver tens of thousands of new homes and provide a greater diversity of choice for renters.

“… the unintended consequence of the draft legislation is to completely close down the capacity for Managed Investment Trusts (MITs) to invest in build to rental accommodation. This risks stalling build-to-rent before it starts.”

Given that kind of opposition, it’s hard to see the MIT investment ban becoming law – or if it did, the government that put such a ban in place ever living it down.

Treasury Releases Affordable Housing Measures

As part of the 2017-18 Budget, the Government announced it would be providing tax incentives to increase private and institutional investment in affordable housing. They have now released an exposure draft for comment.

The legislation proposes an additional 10% Capital Gains Tax (CGT) benefit for investors who provide affordable housing via a recognised community housing entity.

It also allows investment for affordable housing to be made via Managed Investment Trusts (MIT).

The purpose of public consultation is to seek stakeholder views on the exposure draft legislation and explanatory material. Deadline for submissions is 28th September.

Changes To CGT.

The Bill encourages investment in affordable housing for members of the community earning low to moderate incomes. This is achieved by allowing investors to have an additional affordable housing capital gains discount of up to 10 percent at the time a CGT event occurs to an ownership interest in a dwelling that is residential premises that has been used to provide affordable housing. By reducing the CGT that is payable upon disposal of affordable housing, it ensures that a greater proportion of the gain realised at disposal is retained by the investor.

The additional capital gains discount applies to investments by individuals directly in affordable housing or investments in affordable housing by individuals through trusts (other than public unit trusts and superannuation funds), including MITs to the extent the distribution or attribution is to the individual and includes such a capital gain.

An individual is eligible for an additional affordable housing capital gains discount (direct investment) on a capital gain if they:

  • make a discount capital gain from a CGT event happening in relation to a CGT asset that is their ownership interest in a dwelling; and
  • used the dwelling to provide affordable housing for at least three years (1095 days) which may be aggregate usage over different periods.

Only dwellings that are residential premises that are not commercial residential premises can be used to provide affordable housing. Therefore this measure does not apply to caravans, mobile homes and houseboats as they are not residential premises.

The tenancy of the  dwelling or its availability for rent to be exclusively managed by an eligible community housing provider. Community housing providers provide rental housing to tenants who are members of the community earning low to moderate incomes. Community housing providers may own some of the dwellings, however they also manage dwellings on behalf of investors, institutions and state and territory governments. Many community housing providers specialise in providing accommodation to particular client groups which may include disability housing, aged tenants and youth housing. Community housing providers are regulated by the states and territories. For the purposes of this measure an eligible community housing provider is an entity that is registered as a community housing provider to provide community housing services under a law of the Commonwealth, state or territory or is registered by an Australian.

Affordable housing through managed investment trusts.

The proposals will amend taxation laws to encourage managed investment trusts (MITs) to invest in affordable housing. They:

  • allow MITs to invest in dwellings that are residential premises (but not commercial residential premises) that are used to provide affordable housing primarily for the purpose of deriving rent; and
  • apply the concessional 15 per cent withholding tax rate to fund payments: – to the extent they consist of affordable housing rental income and certain capital gains from dwelling used to provide affordable housing; and – that are paid or attributed to MIT members who are foreign residents of jurisdictions which Australia has listed as an exchange of information country.

A MIT is a type of unit trust which investors can use to collectively invest in assets that produce passive income, such as shares, property or fixed interest assets. There also currently is significant uncertainty about the eligibility rules for trusts being MITs if investments are made in dwellings that are residential premises. This is because there is a view that investment in residential property is not made for a primary purpose of earning rental income. It is instead for delivering capital gains from increased property values, and therefore not eligible for the MIT tax concessions.

This measure clarifies the eligibility rules for trusts to be MITs if they invest in dwellings that are residential premises. This will help to provide investors with investment certainty. This change will not, however, affect MITs investing in commercial  residential premises. This means that trusts can invest in commercial residential premises and qualify as MITs provided this investment is primarily for the purpose of deriving rent consistent with the eligible investment business rules.

 

A House Divided

From The Real Estate Conversation.

The Bank of mum and dad is growing the divide between those who can and those who can’t buy property. The latest Adelaide Bank/REIA Housing Affordability Report shows affordability is worsening, just as new research from Mozo shows increasing numbers of parents are stepping in to help their children get a foot on the property ladder. This chimes well with our own Bank of Mum and Dad research published recently.

The latest Adelaide Bank/REIA Housing Affordability Report shows affordability is worsening in Australia, just as new research from Mozo shows growing numbers of parents are stepping in to help their children get a foot on the property ladder. The trend is causing “a growing divide between the younger generation who have had assistance and those who have not,” Kirsty Lamont, Mozo Director, told SCHWARTZWILLIAMS.

The latest Adelaide Bank/REIA Housing Affordability Report shows that buying a house became even less affordable during the June quarter.

The deterioration in affordability comes as research from Mozo.com.au shows almost a third of all parents are helping their children to buy their first home.

The Adelaide Bank/REIA Housing Affordability Report shows the proportion of median family income required to meet average home loan repayments increased by 0.2 percentage points to 31.4 per cent.

The share of first-home buyers in the market is at its highest level since 2010

There is a bright spot in the data though. The number of loans to first-home buyers increased by 14.0 per cent, with increases in all states and territories except Tasmania.

“First home buyers now make up 14.3 per cent of total owner occupied housing,” said REIA President Malcolm Gunning.

Darren Kasehagen, Head of Business Development at Adelaide Bank, said, “A slight increase in housing affordability shouldn’t overshadow the welcome news that the number of first home buyers  increased by 14.0 per cent during the quarter.”

The rate of first-home buyers has been dropping steadily over the last five years, but appears to have stabilised over the past 18 months, said Gunning.

Rental affordability improved

In the June quarter, the proportion of median family income required to meet rent payments declined by 0.6 percentage points to 24.3 per cent. The improvement was recorded across all states and territories except in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, said Gunning.

Rental affordability is the best it has been since the March quarter 2010, according to Gunning.

The bank of mum and dad is stepping in, expanding the divide between those who can afford to get into the market and those who can not

With it getting harder for first-home buyers to get into the property market independently, the ‘bank of mum and dad’, as lending from parents has become known, has ballooned to being the fifth largest home lender in Australia, sitting behind, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac.

New research from financial comparison site, Mozo.com.au, shows 29 per cent of parents, or more than 1 million families, help their children purchase a home. Around $65.3 billion has been lent to children, with 67 per cent of parents not expecting any repayment.

The average amount lent to children is $64,206.

“For many first homebuyers, it takes years to scrimp and save for a home deposit and all the while house prices are continuing to skyrocket, making the great Australian dream exactly that – a dream,” said Lamont.

Australian property prices have risen 618 per cent in the last 30 years; wages growth hasn’t kept pace

“With Australian property prices rising by a staggering 618 per cent over the past 30 years and wages failing to keep up, many mums and dads across the country feel they have no choice but to dip into their own savings to help their children get a foot on the property ladder.”

Lamont said by dipping into their own savings and helping out their children, parents are actually shaping the property market.

“We knew that mums and dads were helping their children out, but the reality is they are actually changing the face of the Australian property market,” she said.

“We expect the Bank of Mum and Dad to remain a major player in the property market for years to come, and it’s likely to cause a growing divide between the younger generation who have had assistance and those who have not.”

“Those young Australians who don’t have access to parental assistance may have to shelve the property dream and consider other ways to invest their money and build wealth,” said Lamont.

“The bank of mum and dad is proof of family generosity, but also points to a broken property market for younger generations.”

  • NSW is the most generous state for parental lending with an average lend of $88,250 per family, totalling $32.7 billion.
  • VIC and SA rank second equal, lending around $63,000 per family.
  • ACT and NT are the least generous, lending $20,083 and $15,000 per family respectively.

The most popular ways for parents to help their kids get a foot on the property ladder is by allowing their children to live at home rent free. Other ways parents help is by acting as a guarantor, helping with repayments, or buying property on behalf of or as a partner with the child.

How Australian parents are helping their kids onto the property ladder

How Australian parents are financing their contribution to their children

Data from the Adelaide Bank/REIA Housing Affordability Report from across the nation

Victoria

The number of loans to first home buyers in Victoria increased by 10.0 per cent in the June quarter. In Victoria, first home buyers now make up 21.1 per cent of the state’s owner-occupier market. Rental affordability improved for the quarter with a decrease of 0.7 per cent of income required to meet median rents.

New South Wales

The proportion of family income required to meet loan repayments is 6.6 per cent higher than the nation’s average. New South Wales remains the least affordable state or territory in which to buy a home. Of the total number of Australian first home buyers that purchased during the June quarter, 18.2 per cent were from New South Wales. First home buyers now make up only 13.0 per cent of the state’s owner-occupier market – the lowest level across the nation. Rental affordability improved for the quarter with a decrease of 0.4 per cent of income required to meet median rents.

Queensland

The proportion of income required to meet home loan repayments increased to 27.2 per cent, a 0.5 percentage point increase over the quarter. Of all Australian first home buyers over the quarter, 25.4 per cent or 6003 were from Queensland while the proportion of first home buyers in the State’s owner-occupier market was 25.3 per cent. Rental affordability improved slightly for the quarter with a decrease of 0.7 per cent to 23.0 per cent of income required to meet median rents.

South Australia

South Australia recorded a decline in housing affordability with the proportion of income required to meet monthly loan repayments increasing to 26.8 per cent, an increase of 0.6 percentage points over the quarter but a decrease of 0.1 percentage points compared to the June quarter 2016. In the national breakdown, 5.8 per cent of first home buyers were from South Australia while the proportion of first home buyers in the State’s owner-occupier market recorded an increase of 12.6 per cent. Rental affordability improved by 0.7 percentage points.

 

Western Australia

The number of first home buyers in Western Australia increased by 16.0 per cent over the quarter and by 3.8 per cent compared to the same time last year. 17.5 per cent of all Australian first home buyers were from Western Australia. Housing affordability declined with the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments increasing to 23.6 per cent or 0.2 percentage points over the quarter but a decrease of 0.3 percentage points year on year.

Tasmania

Housing affordability in Tasmania declined with the proportion of income required to meet home loan repayments increasing to 23.9 per cent, an increase of 0.3 percentage points over the quarter and an increase of 0.2 percentage points year on year.  Rental affordability in Tasmania improved with the proportion of income required to meet median rents decreasing to 25.8 per cent, a 0.8 percentage point drop over the quarter but an increase of 0.8 percentage points year on year.  First home buyers in Tasmania decreased by 3.3 per cent over the quarter and by 17.6 per cent compared to the same quarter last year.

Australian Capital Territory

The number of loans to first home buyers in the Australian Capital Territory increased to 570, an increase of 49.6 per cent over the quarter and an increase of 21.8 per cent compared to the June quarter 2016. Housing affordability in the Australian Capital Territory improved with the proportion of income required to meet home loan repayments decreasing to 19.8 per cent, a 0.3 percentage point drop over the quarter and a decrease of 0.7 percentage points compared to the same quarter last year.  Rental affordability remained stable. The proportion of income required to meet the median rent remained at 17.9 per cent.

Northern Territory

Housing affordability in the Northern Territory improved with the proportion of income required to meet loan repayments decreasing to 20.3 per cent in the June quarter or 0.8 percentage points. This was a decrease of 1.8 percentage points year on year.  Rental affordability in the Northern Territory also improved with the proportion of income required to meet the median rent decreasing to 23.1 per cent or 0.6 percentage points over the quarter or a decrease of 2.0 percentage points compared to the June quarter 2016.