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.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.