Fight over affordable housing puts renters in focus

Greens leader Adam Bandt has yet to receive a formal complaint of racism within his party.

Greens leader Adam Bandt has yet to receive a formal complaint of racism within his party. Photo: AAP

A fight is brewing over how best to address Australia’s housing crisis as rents increase and stock dwindles.

The Greens are looking to leverage their balance of power to force a national rent freeze to break the deadlock on the government’s signature housing package.

But the prime minister has already poured cold water on the push, saying it’s irrational.

Leader Adam Bandt used a National Press Club address on Wednesday to push for support for renters in the May budget.

Mr Bandt says a rent freeze is not only legal but politically possible, after the prime minister dismissed the suggestion.

“Rents have skyrocketed. There are not enough affordable homes. Millions are stressed just trying to keep a roof over their heads,” the Greens leader said.

“If Labor wants our support on its housing bill, it needs to come to the table on the rental crisis and on building more public and affordable housing.”

The minor party, which holds the balance of power in the Senate, will also push to pump an extra $1.6 billion into states and territories through the national affordable housing agreement.

The rent freeze and extra money for social housing will be offset by phasing out negative gearing and removing capital gains tax breaks for people with more than one investment property.

“This isn’t about someone who owns one extra house or flat as an investment,” Mr Bandt said.

“It is about the 20,000 wealthy moguls who own more than six properties each.”

Ending the tax breaks will raise $74 billion, while the Greens’ proposed double rent assistance, freeze and more affordable housing would cost $69 billion.

But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has already slammed the door shut.

Mr Albanese said the Greens’ rhetoric on social housing would be seen as “farcical” if they voted against the fund.

“They are out there saying that they want more investment in social and affordable housing and their strategy to do that is to block $10 billion to create a fund for investment in social and affordable housing,” he said on Wednesday.

Housing Minister Julie Collins said the fund would provide the single biggest investment in social housing in over a decade.

The fund will build 30,000 houses over five years to address a supply shortfall using the profits leveraged by investing up to $500 million a year.

“This is a long-term vision and a chance to change housing outcomes in Australia,” Ms Collins said.

But Mr Bandt said hoping for investment returns wasn’t good enough after a recent housing report found slowing housing supply is expected to contribute to a shortfall of more than 106,000 dwellings cumulatively up to 2027.

“We need governments to get back to what governments used to do in the past and just start building public housing themselves,” he said.

“Not put $10 billion on the stock market and say, ‘if we get enough money, we might spend anywhere between zero to $500 million helping someone build something’.”

The government faces an uphill battle to get its housing package passed in the Senate, with the Greens and crossbenchers withholding their votes for the fund in the hopes of a more ambitious package.

The coalition opposes the policy, saying the amount of money that needs to be borrowed under the fund would be inflationary and push up interest rates.

Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor called for borrowing restraint in the upcoming budget.

“The government is competing with Australian businesses and households to borrow money and that puts upward pressure on interest rates and inflation.”


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