Media Coverage

Could Tasmania become Australia’s Finland and end Homelessness?

OP ED by Robert Pradolin, Founder and Director, Housing All Australians and a Board member of Homes Tasmania. as featured in Australian Property Journal.

OPINION: I AM a capitalist! But it does not mean I do not care about vulnerable people.

In fact, many businesspeople in Australia share the same values. This is why Housing All Australians was established. As a private sector voice, looking at housing and homelessness through an economic lens and business lens.

Homelessness is the canary in the coal mine to a much more substantial issue throughout the housing continuum, which is currently playing out with unaffordable rentals and escalating house prices. This issue is so significant to the future of this country that I, like many people, are tired of the political games played by all sides of politics. We need to start housing all our people, rich or poor and we need to start now! The true extent of the implication is going unnoticed because people do not know what they do not know.

In July 2022, Housing All Australians published a report called “Give Me Shelter,” which outlined the long-term costs of undersupplying public, social, and affordable housing in Australia. The report not only demonstrated the compelling business case for housing all Australians to mitigate future societal costs (read taxpayers), but it also highlighted that if we let government continue to ignore the magnitude of this housing crisis, the costs to society will reach an additional $25 billion per year by 2032 in today’s dollars. And growing.

The size of the housing problem facing Australia was calculated by federal government actuaries in 2021 and was presented in the Chris Leptos’ review of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC). The review estimated that addressing the shortfall in social and affordable housing dwellings would require an investment of around $290 billion over the next two decades.

So, why haven’t we used this number to develop a long-term housing strategy that would create the essential housing infrastructure we need for a prosperous future in Australia? Why are governments so averse to setting meaningful and ambitious goals like this? The sheer magnitude of the problem, and the realistic solutions, intimidate politicians from all sides, making it seem too daunting and unattainable. As a result, we never take the first step, and the problem only worsens. We keep kicking the can down the road, leaving it for future generations to fix. This cycle must be reversed for the sake of our grandchildren and their children.

Governments at all levels are now realising that we need to increase housing supply. But even if everyone agrees to do this today, it will take several years to bring new supply to the market, and decades for it to have real impact. That is why we need a national housing strategy with short, medium, and long-term goals.

At Housing All Australians, we do not have all the solutions. However, together with our growing list of value aligned corporate partners, we have decided to take action in the following way:

Short term – let’s make use of the empty buildings that are sitting vacant, waiting for their planning approvals. This is not a long-term solution, but an immediate way to use “existing infrastructure” while we build the homes our country needs. Currently, Housing All Australians has close to 150 rooms, in several buildings, in both Melbourne and Perth either completed or underdevelopment. There are 1000’s of empty buildings lying vacant that can be used for short term transitional shelter.

Medium-term – We have created our affordable housing model that uses the NRAS governance principles to allow qualified people to apply for below-market rents. As part of this, we are developing a digital Affordable Housing Register that will allow local government to monitor the compliance of all stakeholders. The creation of this register will unlock private sector capital to drive affordable housing.

Long Term – If the figure of $290 billion seems overwhelming, and we can put aside our parochial sentiment, perhaps we can be bold and target to end homelessness in one state and use that as a pilot for Australia and measure the resulting social and economic benefits to shape future housing policy. It is not impossible. What about Tasmania?

Tasmania is the only state that is about to have a Housing Strategy that acknowledges the solution rests in addressing the entire housing continuum.  Tasmania is already in a unique position as the government has committed to constructing 10,000 homes by 2032 while the public housing waiting list stands at around 4,500. No other state is in this position. With the assistance of the federal government, ending homelessness in Tasmania could pave the way to examine the economic and social benefits of ending homelessness. Tasmania already serves as a testing ground for various products in the business world, so why not test housing policies there?

However, it’s crucial to understand that there are no quick fixes. Finland declared its ambitious goal of eradicating homelessness back in 2008 and is now well on its way to achieving it by 2027. Since 2008, the number of homeless people living alone has decreased by 54%, and the number of long-term homeless individuals has dropped by 68%. It is possible to make progress. We must stop relying solely on the government to solve this escalating problem. It is everyone’s responsibility, including the business sector. It has taken us decades to reach this point, and it will take decades to get out.

Australians are growing tired of the political games in Canberra and are yearning for real action. Let’s be bold. Let’s step outside our comfort zones. Let’s establish an audacious goal that we can all support and give it our best shot. The only thing we have to lose is the future we want for our grandchildren.