Australia financialised its housing market. What can be done?

An Australian home buyer goes shopping. Image: Getty.

A recent United Nations report on the right to adequate housing identified the financialisation of housing as an issue of global importance. It defines the financialisation of housing as: The Conversation

… structural changes in housing and financial markets and global investment whereby housing is treated as a commodity, a means of accumulating wealth and often as security for financial instruments that are traded and sold on global markets.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing argued that treating the house as a repository for capital – rather than a place for habitation – is a human rights issue.


Leilani Farha explains her role as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing.

The financialisation of housing has been central to wealth creation in Australian households since at least the second world war. Today, it underwrites the bank of mum and dad, amateur property investors as landlords, asset-based welfare, and foreign real estate investment.

Australia’s financialised housing system

Following Prime Minister Robert Menzies’ “Forgotten People” speech, Australian governments have effectively subsidised housing investment through taxation incentives for home ownership. Capital gains exceptions, the exclusion of the primary home from pension calculations, negative gearing, tenancy policies that favour property owners, less restrictive mortgage financing arrangements and first home owner grants are commonly cited examples.

These policies and practices underpin many of the benefits of property investment. But they also change the way Australians think about their home. Houses have shifted from being valued as a place to live and to raise a family towards being viewed also as a place to park and grow capital.

This strongly influences Australians’ decision-making about buying and selling property. It also affects how they think about and use housing equity for business, retirement, family and other purposes.

21st-century winners

Owner-occupiers and property investors benefit most from a financialised housing system.

While many Australians own investment properties, these investors tend to be amongst the wealthiest in our society, challenging the myth of the “mum and dad” investor. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey shows, for example, that “over 50 per cent of owners are in the top wealth quintile, and over three-quarters are in the top two quintiles”.

Property investors also tend to have higher incomes, with 70.3 per cent earning in the top 40 per cent of all incomes. They can access their housing equity by buying and selling when market conditions are right. The home can also be treated like an ATM via redraw mortgages.

Linked with foreign investment policies, this system can expose local housing markets to foreign investors and shifting global capital and financial markets. This can change the investment dynamics of local property markets and rental stock.


21st-century losers

Richard Ronald recently highlighted the emergence of “Generation Rent”. While some young people will eventually inherit from their parents, those whose parents rent or are over-leveraged mortgage-holders are increasingly shut out of home ownership.

This suggests a growing polarisation in housing opportunity. People earning middle and lower incomes, younger people whose parents are not home owners and women who have lost a home or never gained housing wealth are among the most disadvantaged.

Pensioners who rent face housing insecurity and difficulties making ends meet. People remain homeless despite it costing government less to provide permanent supportive housing to end homelessness than to provide services to the homeless.

People living in public, social and other “affordable housing” can be doubly disadvantaged. First, due to their affordable housing tenure, these groups have not built any capital in their housing. Second, some residents face eviction through large-scale public housing redevelopments by governments that view their homes as key real estate assets.

Housing experts call for action

David Madden and Peter Marcuse have shown how to definancialise a housing system. They argue that even the term “affordable housing” is a financialised way of thinking about housing provision.

They call for an increase in public and social housing, and for an end to the eviction or rehousing of public and social housing tenants. Some affordable housing advocates agree, arguing for an increase of “at least 2,000 new dwellings a year for ten years” in New South Wales alone.

More affordable housing and low-cost social rentals, which peg housing costs to income, are needed. Government and not-for-profit builders could provide such housing. This would also require “new ways to finance affordable-rental housing”.

Private rentals need to be more secure, too, so tenants have the regulatory support to treat their housing like a home. Removing no-cause eviction is an important start.

A long-term plan for overhauling the taxation system is key. This would, however, need to limit the financial risks to current home owners and investors. A slow winding back of tax breaks for investment properties would encourage property owners and investors to move their housing wealth into other asset classes over the long term.

This would help to ameliorate the current “distorted investment pattern that disadvantages the supply of affordable rental housing”.

Dallas Rogers is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Architecture, Design & Planning at the University of Sydney. Emma Power is a senior research fellow in geography and urban studies at Western Sydney University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Where actually is South London?

TFW Stephen Bush tells you that Chelsea is a South London team. Image: Getty.

To the casual observer, this may not seem like a particularly contentious question: isn’t it just everything ‘under’ the Thames when you look at the map? But despite this, some people will insist that places like Fulham, clearly north of the river, are in South London. Why?

Here are nine ways of defining South London.

The Thames

Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

It’s a curvy river, the Thames. Hampton Court Palace, which is on the north bank of the river, is miles south of the London Eye, on the south bank. If the river forms a hard border between North and South Londons, then logically sometimes North London is going to be south of South London, which is, to be fair, confusing. But how else could we do it?

Latitude

You could just draw a horizontal line across a central point (say, Charing Cross, where the road distances are measured from). While this solves the London Eye/Hampton Court problem, this puts Thamesmead in North London, and Shepherd’s Bush in South London, which doesn’t seem right either.

Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

And if you tried to use longitude to define West and East London on top of this, nothing would ever make sense ever again.

The Post Office

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Some people give the Post Office the deciding vote, arguing that North and South London are defined by their postcodes. This does have some advantages, such as removing many contentious areas from the debate because they’re either in the West, East or Central postcode divisions, or ignoring Croydon.

But six of the SW postcodes are north of the river Thames, so we’re back to saying places like Fulham and Chelsea are in south London. Which is apparently fine with some people, but are we also going to concede that Big Ben and Buckingham Palace are South London landmarks?

Taken to the extreme this argument denies that South London exists at all. The South postcode region was abolished in 1868, to be merged into the SE and SW regions. The S postcode area is now Sheffield. So is Sheffield in South London, postcode truthers? Is that what you want?

Transport for London

Image: TfL.

At first glance TfL might not appear to have anything to add to the debate. The transport zones are about distance from the centre rather than compass point. And the Northern Line runs all the way through both North and South London, so maybe they’re just confused about the entire concept of directions.

 

Image: TfL.

But their website does provide bus maps that divide the city into 5 regions: North East, South East, South West, North West and the Centre. Although this unusual approach is roughly speaking achieved by drawing lines across and down the middle, then a box around the central London, there are some inconsistencies. Parts of Fulham are called for the South West region, yet the whole of the Isle of Dogs is now in North East London? Sick. It’s sick.

The Boundary Commission

One group of people who ought to know a thing or two about boundaries is the Boundary Commission for England. When coming up with proposals for reforming parliamentary constituencies in 2011, it first had to define ‘sub-regions’ for London.

Initially it suggested three – South, North East, and a combined North, West and Central region, which included Richmond (controversial!) – before merging the latter two into ‘North’ and shifting Richmond back to the South.

In the most recent proposal the regions have reverted to North Thames and South Thames (splitting Richmond), landing us right back where we started. Thanks a bunch, boundary commission.

The London Plan

Image: Greater London Authority.

What does the Mayor of London have to say? His office issues a London Plan, which divides London into five parts. Currently ‘South’ includes only Bromley, Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Sutton, and Wandsworth, while the ‘North’ consists of just Barnet, Enfield, and Haringey. Everywhere else is divvied into East, South or Central.

While this minimalist approach does have the appeal of satisfying no-one, given the scheme has been completely revised twice since 2004 it does carry the risk of seismic upheaval. What if Sadiq gets drunk on power and declares that Islington is in East London? What then?

Wikipedia

 

Image: Wikimedia Commons/CityMetric.

The coordinates listed on the South London article lead to Brockwell Park near Herne Hill, while the coordinates on the North London article lead to a garden centre near Redbridge. I don’t know what this means, so I tried to ring the garden centre to see if they had any advice on the matter. It was closed.

Pevsner Guides

Image: Wikimedia Commons/CityMetric.

Art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner might seem an unlikely source of help at this juncture, but we’ve tried everything else. And the series of architectural guides that he edited, The Buildings of England, originally included 2 volumes for London: “The Cities of London and Westminster”, and “everything else”. Which is useless.

But as his successors have revised his work, London has expanded to fill 6 volumes: North, North West, East, The City, Westminster, and South. South, quite sensibly, includes every borough south of the Thames, and any borough that is partly south of the Thames (i.e. Richmond). And as a bonus: West London no longer exists.

McDonald’s

I rang a McDonald’s in Fulham and asked if they were in South London. They said no.

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