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The housing crisis hit Queensland hard. Jolted into action, the state has raised its game

  • Written by Hal Pawson, Professor of Housing Research and Policy, and Associate Director, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

Post-COVID housing stress has been especially intense in Queensland. Brisbane property prices have climbed by 65%[1] since the pandemic began. That’s almost double the Australian capital city average (34%).

According to new data released by CoreLogic[2] this week, Brisbane now has the second-most expensive housing in the country, behind Sydney. Prices rose by 1.4% in May, with the median property price hitting $843,231.

Across the state, new tenancy rents are up by 45%[3] in just four years. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a 23% increase in real terms, much more than the growth in incomes over that time. Without doubt, rising accommodation costs are inflicting financial pain on many in the Sunshine State.

Soaring rents have squeezed people on lower incomes particularly hard. Our analysis[4] shows the share of new lettings at rents low-income households can afford has slumped from 23% to 10% of all private tenancies since 2020. And less than 1%[5] of available Queensland rentals in March 2024 were affordable to a single person earning minimum wage or a pensioner couple.

These conditions push some people into homelessness. With “tent cities[6]” appearing across Brisbane, the crisis looks to be deepening.

Yet, as we report today[7], this situation has triggered a flurry of constructive housing policymaking. Queensland has begun to reverse a long-term decline in its social housing stock. The state has also boosted homelessness funding and services.

What led to this crisis?

The pandemic’s economic disruption and state population growth well above the national rate have made the housing situation worse. Since COVID hit in 2020, Queensland’s population has grown by 6.6%[8], compared with 4.7% for Australia as a whole.

But historic policy inaction and complacency[9] on housing are also to blame. Both state and federal governments have been highly culpable. And, given their complexity, the fundamental flaws of our housing system cannot be quickly solved, even if there is the political will to do so.

Despite this, as argued in our new report[10] for Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS[11]), we have recently seen something of a sea change in official policy responses to the state’s housing challenges. The past two years, especially, have been a remarkably fertile time for housing policy (both state and federal).

Social housing is expanding at last

Nowhere is this shift more striking than in the area of social housing – public or community housing for the lowest income earners.

This is a sector in long-term decline across Australia. Investment has been minimal since the 1990s. By 2021, social housing was down to barely 3% of all occupied dwellings in Queensland.

The sector has withered on the vine, even as demand for its secure and affordable tenancies soared. To manage the resulting mismatch, the state government ratcheted up entry restrictions on social housing.

The income limit to be eligible for social housing has been frozen since the 2000s. The freeze has effectively lowered the income limit by 30% in real terms[12]. The effect is to exclude more of those who are merely poor, rather than extremely poor.

In the past five years, though, we have seen a marked turnaround. Thanks to increasing state investments, the number of social housing dwellings has begun to grow.

Building on that progress, the Queensland government pledged in early 2024 to add 53,500 social housing units[13] by 2046. This would expand the stock of public and community housing by 73%.

A construction site for a multi-storey block of social and affordable housing units
The planned rate of construction would increase social housing’s share of all housing stock in Queensland. Darren England/AAP

Compatible with this target, a medium-term goal is to expand annual output to 2,000 units by 2027-28 – a fourfold increase on the late 2010s.

Crucially, committed (or reasonably expected) state and federal government funding and building contracts underpin this four-year goal. The “reasonably expected” part of this is the Commonwealth’s Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF)[14], a share of which should flow to Queensland.

Adding 2,000 social housing units a year by the late 2020s would reverse the sector’s historic decline. If sustained over time, it would begin to expand social housing back towards 5% of all housing, where it once was.

State leads way on evidence-based policy

An aspect of this story is notable not so much for the policy itself, but for the policymaking process. By its own account[15], the Queensland government scaled its long-term social housing construction target based on demographic modelling of current and projected need.

For readers familiar with service planning in areas like health or education this might sound pretty humdrum. For social housing, though, it is virtually unprecedented in Australia. For example, no such evidence base underpins the size of the Albanese government’s HAFF program[16].

Queensland can therefore reasonably claim to be leading the way on long-term, evidence-informed planning of social housing investment. That said, the government’s very limited disclosure of its modelling assumptions[17] makes it difficult to assess the adequacy of its 53,500 target. Compared with our own census-based estimate[18] of currently unmet need, it appears relatively low.

Man wearing a hard hat and high-viz vest on a housing construction site
Unlike the Queensland government, the Albanese government has not used modelling of needs to determine the scale of its housing investment. Dean Lewins/AAP

Will Queensland’s ambition inspire others?

In other creditable recent initiatives, the state government has stepped up homelessness service funding, acquired former National Rental Affordability Scheme[19] homes that would otherwise revert to market prices[20], and expanded homelessness case co-ordination and outreach services.

In other areas, reform has been more hesitant. These include tenants’ rights[21] and the use of the planning system[22] to leverage affordable housing production.

At the federal level, the current modest scale and duration of pledged social and affordable housing investment under the Housing Australia Future Fund is similarly concerning. A broader Commonwealth shortcoming is the continuing lack of any commitment to consider – at the very least – the fundamental property tax reforms needed to rebalance Australia’s distorted housing system[23].

Nevertheless, the recent direction of housing policy has been generally more positive for Queensland than many might imagine. Let’s hope this trajectory continues, as well as inspiring more progressive ambition and action by other Australian governments.

References

  1. ^ have climbed by 65% (sqmresearch.com.au)
  2. ^ new data released by CoreLogic (www.abc.net.au)
  3. ^ up by 45% (www.rta.qld.gov.au)
  4. ^ Our analysis (townofnowhere.com)
  5. ^ less than 1% (www.anglicare.asn.au)
  6. ^ tent cities (www.9news.com.au)
  7. ^ as we report today (townofnowhere.com)
  8. ^ grown by 6.6% (www.abs.gov.au)
  9. ^ policy inaction and complacency (link.springer.com)
  10. ^ new report (townofnowhere.com)
  11. ^ QCOSS (www.qcoss.org.au)
  12. ^ by 30% in real terms (townofnowhere.com)
  13. ^ 53,500 social housing units (www.housing.qld.gov.au)
  14. ^ Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) (theconversation.com)
  15. ^ its own account (www.housing.qld.gov.au)
  16. ^ HAFF program (theconversation.com)
  17. ^ modelling assumptions (www.housing.qld.gov.au)
  18. ^ census-based estimate (cityfutures.ada.unsw.edu.au)
  19. ^ National Rental Affordability Scheme (www.dss.gov.au)
  20. ^ revert to market prices (www.theguardian.com)
  21. ^ tenants’ rights (www.theguardian.com)
  22. ^ use of the planning system (townofnowhere.com)
  23. ^ distorted housing system (www.quarterlyessay.com.au)

Authors: Hal Pawson, Professor of Housing Research and Policy, and Associate Director, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

Read more https://theconversation.com/the-housing-crisis-hit-queensland-hard-jolted-into-action-the-state-has-raised-its-game-230870