The federal opposition has called on federal and state governments to cut land tax and stamp duty to help boost rental stock. Thousands of people across the country are skipping meals to pay rising rents, a housing affordability conference in Sydney heard on Thursday. And housing experts warn the home affordability crisis threatens to destabilise the economy and drive the country into recession.

Opposition frontbencher Greg Hunt said on Friday this week’s national housing conference was an ideal opportunity for federal Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek to address land tax and stamp duty, to lessen the burden and help increase the stock of homes available for rent.

“These are killers for people and what they do is decrease the rental stock,” Mr Hunt, opposition spokesman for Climate Change, Environment and Urban Water, told the Seven Network.
“A lot of people have said we’re not willing to pay the cost of holding a rental property if we’re whacked with a huge land tax or we have to deal with stamp duty and today is the day, Tanya, stamp duty, land tax and more land releases – you have a great opportunity.”

Ms Plibersek said a lot of people had taken money out of investment property and put it into superannuation when favourable tax treatment was introduced last year under the previous government.

She said the Rudd government had committed to introducing the first home saver account to help people into their first house. “We know that as a proportion of all home buyers, first home buyers have shrunk as a proportion, so we want to help them save through a superannuation-style savings account,” Ms Plibersek stated. “We’ve also got a national rental affordability scheme, 50,000 new rental properties, because there is a terrible shortage all around the country.”

Experts told the housing conference on Thursday that Australia faced great social unrest and human suffering as well as chronic labour shortages without affordable housing. Professor Rachel Gatt, an affordable housing policy expert from Tufts University, Massachusetts, said the housing affordability equation was brutally simple. “Either wages have to stay high enough so people can afford to buy housing on the private market or if the private market is not able to meet the housing challenge then you need to have government subsidies,” she told reporters.

“If you don’t have affordable housing, and if your wages don’t keep pace with the cost of housing, you are going to find people doubling up with relatives, turning into homeless people and creating a great deal of social unrest and human suffering than what you have now.”

Research presented at the conference show people are going without food as they struggle to pay their rent. Professor Terry Burke of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Unit presented the research, which showed 26 per cent of low-income renters sometimes go without food and 42 per cent of low-income renters cannot afford school excursions, Fairfax reported.
Labor says the Howard government failed to acknowledge the rental crisis, despite knowing more than two years ago that more than one third of renters were suffering from rental stress.

Simon Turner