Sunday, July 19, 2020

Submission to NSW Housing Strategy

The New South Wales government is creating a long-term housing strategy. Hooray!

You can read my submission here.

What's the strategy all about? It's always hard to know with these jargon-filled government documents. To avoid accountability for specific outcomes these documents 1) never make direct, clear, points and 2) always use coded language.

To get a feel for what the priorities are in this strategy I did a word count of key terms that seem relevant to me when it comes to housing. If word frequency is any guide, the strategy is all about population, planning and supply.

Notably, it is not about prices.

This is weird. The Housing Strategy discussion paper notes that rents are the best metric for determining the adequacy of supply and that by this metric supply has been sufficient to meet the record population growth of recent years.
Given the large amount of housing supply currently being delivered, the vacancy rate has risen in Sydney and rent increases have moderated.
So we have a whole housing strategy being created on the basis that housing supply is not responding to population growth because of planning. Yet at the same time, there is a hidden admission that this is definitely not a big issue.

The only logical conclusion is that the government needs to be seen to be doing something about housing because of declining homeownership and enormous wealth gaps the housing market is creating. But it cannot actually enact policy to make housing cheaper.
The fact that community concern about rising prices is not the focus of the discussion paper is quite clear evidence of a political balancing act being played out. Housing is desired to be more “affordable”, but policies that actually lower home prices are political suicide and also come with macro-economic risks.
...current renters and future buyers are the main beneficiaries of lower prices. But they are few in number, and low in wealth, compared to the homeowners and housing investors who gain from higher prices and rents.
This is the heart of the NSW and national housing dilemma that should be the focus of any housing strategy at any level of government. A realpolitik view is that this dilemma is behind the promotion of supply-focussed policy—it can plausibly be claimed to be helping reduce prices while in practice not having any price effects, keeping homeowners and investors happy. In addition, it provides a justification for using the planning system to deliver windfall gains to politically connected landowner ‘mates’
There you have it. Expect a lot of talk and debate about housing during the development of this strategy. Expect no substantial changes except for a few more giveaways from the planning system to well-connected developer mates. 

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