Scott Ludlam

13 March 2014 — Senator Scott Ludlam, a strong champion of affordable housing issue in parliament, says the Greens have concerns about the National Rental Affordability Scheme, but that it is addressing a vital need.

In a phone interview with The Fifth Estate on Wednesday evening in response to recent attacks the NRAS, he said the concerns the Greens have around NRAS included the short time horizons for the incentives, which makes the big investment funds “nervous” about committing to the scheme as a viable investment.

“The idea [should be] for a stable, predictable space for affordable housing,” he said.

He said the investment community needed to see that any proposed review of NRAS was linked to proper departmental resources to get proposals approved and off the ground.

“[Developers] have been telling us they have to make the investment case for their proposals without NRAS, and if they do get NRAS, then it becomes a bonus,” Mr Ludlam said.

“The assessment and reporting framework made it difficult to see where it was going.

“The metrics are no longer there… and the super funds and institutional investors won’t touch [the NRAS].”

The Greens see the scheme as a supply-side measure to open up housing for low income people including key workers and students. However, Senator Ludlam expressed reservations about the use of NRAS accommodation for wealthy students – either Australian or from overseas.

Instead the Greens have proposed the specific funding of 20,000 student rentals through a new University NRAS scheme, which would involve the universities as partners to leverage affordable student housing.

Generally, however, he said the scheme had been working to deliver sustainable and affordable housing for areas of need in Western Australia. But this was only part of the bigger picture of resolving the housing crisis.

“Even if [the government] cleans up NRAS and creates an investment horizon, we need to do other things,” Senator Ludlam said, giving the proposal of housing bonds as an example.

These, he suggested, could be used to bring together three tiers of investment – community housing organisations, institutional investors including super funds and “mum and dad” investors.

“Housing supply bonds underpin a radical increase in housing. It creates an immediate capital uplift for providing for the rough sleepers – the homeless – and prefabricated and modular housing options are ideal for that. It also provides straight up funding for more shelters.

“There are different tiers to the housing crisis… housing affordability is [about] asset and wealth inequality.”