The CEO of Shelter Tasmania, Pattie Chugg, rightly stated the root cause of homelessness is the undersupply of affordable rental homes (NIMBYs, shift your views to make way for affordable housing, Talking Point, The Mercury, 5 August 2021). Coming to the issue of rental supply and housing affordability from the perspective of rental owner, I agree and welcome rents falling as a natural consequence of supply and demand in action, opposed to intensive government interference.
While it is widely accepted that boosting supply will stabilise and reduce prices, some key players in Hobart’s housing sector seem oblivious to this and unaware of the critical role they have in restoring the balance.
A major stakeholder who seems to have missed the more-homes-lower-rent Zoom session is the Hobart City Council, with the Council recently releasing its Affordable Housing and Homelessness Commitment for public comment. In my opinion, the actions contained in the Commitment are weak and underwhelming, comprising of low impact and vague actions that will do little to nothing to keep Tasmanians safe, warm and dry, especially in the short term.
Disturbingly, the Commitment is silent on the Council’s role as Planning Authority and the direct correlation that exists between the decisions made by the 12 elected members and Hobart’s housing situation. Given every single home in Hobart is filtered through the Council, the decisions they make have a tangible and dramatic impact on the availability of homes and how much those homes cost. Without the state growing its public and social housing portfolio, and local government having full awareness of the power in their hands and the consequences of their votes, the situation will not improve.
Given the intensity of our housing stress, the default position should be to approve homes, with rejection being the exception. The Hobart City Council needs to accept their share of accountability for the Hobart’s housing troubles and must ensure that personal preferences and highly subjective rationales no longer keep much needed homes as plans and reports only. At minimum, members should be reminded of Hobart’s housing affordability and population growth statistics at the beginning of every Planning Authority session to ensure this relationship is front of mind.
If the Hobart City Council is serious about homelessness and housing affordability, it will take more than reference groups and media opportunities to see positive results. Now is the time for the Council to commit to significant actions that exert the Council, requiring it to put some of its own skin in the game.
Beyond their role as Planning Authority, the Council’s ability to positively influence housing affordability and, therefore, homelessness is broad. The Council needs to transition from blocker to enabler, and actions such a waiving permit fees and fast-tracked approvals processes for affordable housing could kick-start the change. The Council could also look to incentivise short-stay accommodation to change to long-term rental by offering rates discounts when properties are rented for a minimum period and make accessing planning advice more accessible.
The seriousness of today’s housing crisis and the lack of a blue sky in the horizon means the key players – State and Local Government – cannot ignore their fundamental role in ensuring that we have the homes we need for today’s Tasmanians and our future arrivals.