Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said today that a "gold bath and pearl taps" would have to go into an eligible bathroom renovation under the HomeBuilder scheme. Photo by Ronnie George on Unsplash

ANALYSIS: On Thursday, the Morrison government introduced its HomeBuilder (insert trademark) scheme with the intention of supporting residential home builders that are starting to see work dry up.

The scheme offers $25,000 for people to upgrade or build their homes. But there’s a catch, or should we say catches, that make this subsidy available to a relatively small, relatively wealthy cohort.

First of all, you have to spend between $150,000 and $750,000 of your own money. This has been met with a combination of amusement (opposition leader Anthony Albanese said today that a “gold bath and pearl taps” would have to go into an eligible bathroom reno) and despair (the homeless, the poorly and unsafely housed, home energy efficiency enthusiasts).

True, efforts have been made to stop the uber-rich getting this thing. The house you’re renovating must be valued at less than $1.5 million prior to renovations, and your taxable income must be less than $125,000 a year (or less than a combined $200,000 per year if you live with your partner).

But when renovations are meant to improve the accessibility, safety or liveability of the home, people have been left scratching their heads wondering exactly what is eligible.

As many people called or texted into Fran Kelly on ABC’s RN Breakfast on Thursday, the $150,000 minimum is astronomically more than a back step out to the garden for a pensioner or insulation in a draughty home.

Interviewed on the show was chief executive of National Shelter, Adrian Pisarsk, who said not including social housing in such a scheme was a missed opportunity.

This sentiment was echoed in an opinion piece by Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue executive director Adam Leto, Rob Harley in the AFR, Per Capita executive director Emma Dawson in The Guardian, and a whole lot of other people on Twitter.

The Master Builders Australia welcomes the “lifeline” to the industry but has also been part of an unlikely alliance with CFMEU to suggest pumping $10 billion into social and affordable construction fund to keep jobs in construction and deliver social and economic outcomes. These two aren’t out on their own – they are part of growing chorus of voices calling for the same thing, including Labor and the Greens.

Sustainability is the other missing ingredient. Trivess Moore, a senior lecturer in construction at RMIT and member of the Sustainable Building Innovation Laboratory, said that it’s “a wasted opportunity for any building industry stimulus not to be linked to improving quality and sustainability outcomes for households.”

He suggested stimulus for energy upgrades could be checked by certified sustainability assessors to ensure quality.

One would hope the government will throw some money towards social and affordable housing, and sustainability, in subsequent stimulus packages. But we aren’t holding our breath.

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  1. If they are going to give it to homeowners (and not spend it on more worthy causes like social housing) then give smaller grants (like 5,000, with the same income – or less and house value conditions and no matching funds necessary). It would be so useful to people like pensioners or lower income homeowners (including investment home owners) to fix up a dodgy deck, replace some steps, insulate their house, etc etc. There are heaps of older people where I live who cannot afford to do basic maintenance on their homes. That way, it would benefit SMALL business too; small one person tradies for example. Everyone I know (no matter what their political orientation) would be in favour of that (and everyone I know thinks the grant as is is stupid and only for the benefit of the banks and big business builders). I qualify both in income and value but there is no way in hell that I would borrow (because who has that sort of cash) 150k to renovate my house (which is probably only worth that) during a recession? I’d put it into my mortage if I had the cash.

  2. Over the past year, we (Visionary Design Development) have been working with Dr Andrew Martel (Melbourne Uni School of Design) investigating the accessibility of existing housing in Melbourne/ Victoria. Which, to put it mildly, is abysmal (we have the data to prove it). We also think that the HomeBuilder scheme as announced by the federal government is a missed opportunity. Housing alterations that improve livability for everyone and enable ageing-in-place are sorely needed. Such basic alterations, for example, to bathrooms and housing entries, are unlikely to cost anywhere near $150K, but at even $50K are beyond the budget of those that need them most, ie people on the aged pension, people with disability, people in precarious living situations etc. Mary Ann Jackson

  3. Would have been a perfect opportunity to subsidise energy efficiency and sustainable retrofits to existing rental properties, however that would have required 1. it not be a PPR, 2. it not be $150K reno. I can think of nothing better than spending $30K on building seal, insulation, efficient AC and PV for my long suffering tenants,for a modest incentive. A missed opportunity.