Architects are at the forefront of calls to increase the number and quality of Australia’s social housing.
As the Albanese Labor government kicks off its term in office, newly appointed Minister or Housing Julie Collins faces a challenge to overcome the dire affordable and social housing undersupply nationally.
Accelerated house price growth has hiked the average price of a home in regional areas 17 per cent, and 8 per cent in Australia’s capital cities, over the last 12 months alone. Even before this, more than one million low-income households in housing stress and up to two million people were considered at risk of homelessness. All these issues are especially relevant for our First Nations Australians, who have lived with ongoing underfunding for housing. This has resulted in one in five First Nations people living in overcrowded conditions, and about one-third of remote homes at an unacceptable standard. Australia needs a national plan for social and affordable housing.
Ahead of the Australian election, the Institute advocated for a national housing strategy to create solutions for this enduring challenge. A national survey of our members had revealed almost two out of three believed housing affordability was absolutely critical, and a further one in four rated it quite important. We called for a centralised dataset for all housing supply to enable minimum targets for future social and affordable housing.
This would involve working with the states to incentivise zoning. Architects are also concerned that housing should be fit for purpose, accessible and sustainable.
Since the election, state governments have revealed their budgets and significant housing boosts. New South Wales announced a $500m Housing Package, Victoria will invest $1bn in low-interest loans to community housing and a $500m Homebuyer Fund, and Queensland unveiled a new $1bn Housing Investment Fund and additional money for social housing. While we welcome these announcements, we know they are not enough. It is heartening state and territory ministers are again meeting with their federal counterparts – five years after their last meeting – and collaboration must continue. Minister Collins’ stewardship if the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund to build 30,000 social and affordable housing properties in five years will not be easy. Amid skyrocketing costs for materials and increasing wages the task will be challenging. But it is critical.
We want to see an Australia where there is sufficient social and affordable housing for the nation to fulfil this human right. Further, we want this investment to be sustainable for the long term. A well-designed home will save money in the future. Sustainably designed homes create healthier, more resilient and less costly spaces. By design, they should be energy-efficient, insulated to heat and cold and resilient to the threat of climate change and natural disaster. Homes should be run using renewable power sources to lower costs and reduce emissions. Importantly, all these factors will increase the affordability to the resident for utilities and even insurance.
This is all possible. In 2014 Cox architects won a World Architecture Award for the Constance Street project for Brisbane Housing Company. The 10-level complex of 55 studio apartments and 23 single bed homes were set around an atrium to provide natural light and ventilation, enhanced by gardens and seating areas for socialisation.
We recognise the challenge but it is essential to engage. Housing is a whole of community issue that demands a whole of community solution. Australia needs a long-term strategy to support housing, supported by all sides of the built environment sector from architects to engineers, buildings and developers. As the custodians of Australia’s built environment, architects are ready to assist.