With affordable housing set to be a key priority for the new Albanese government, a new report has shed new light on the $18 billion community housing sector, and the vital role it plays in Australia’s social housing infrastructure.

Community Housing Organisations, including housing co-operatives and charitable not-for-profits, now provide around one quarter of all social housing in Australia, up from a 12 per cent share a decade earlier, according to government figures.

Additionally, more than half (52 per cent) of the dwellings subsidised through the National Rental Affordability Scheme – over 17,500 in total – were provided through CHOs.

Affordable housing is set to be a major priority for the new federal government. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has pledged $10 billion to create a Housing Australia Future Fund, which will build 30,000 new social and affordable housing properties in its first five years. 

Investment returns from the fund will be transferred to the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (which would be renamed Housing Australia) to pay for social and affordable housing projects.

Community Housing Industry Association chief executive Wendy Hayhurst told The Fifth Estate the Housing Australia Future Fund is a great start, but there’s a lot more to do, with social housing currently accounting for less than one in 20 homes across Australia.

“Community housing organisations are ready and waiting to lead in delivering the national housing program. The sector now manages over almost 120,000 homes, has $18 billion in assets and brings in $1.8 billion every year in revenue,” Ms Hayhurst said.

“We’re not-for-profit organisations that re-invest any surplus revenue into new housing, better services or improving our properties – not into dividends for shareholders or executive bonuses.”

Scale of the sector

Despite the pivotal role CHOs play in social housing in Australia, until now accurate information about the scale of the sector has been scarce. This has caused much frustration to governments, businesses and other organisations looking to work with the sector.

To rectify the situation, CHIA has painstakingly combed through annual reports to pull together a snapshot of the sector.  

The research found 118,000 social and affordable housing tenancies are managed by Australia’s 101 largest CHOs. In total, over 35,500 dwellings are owned by CHOs, with an additional 6362 currently in the supply pipeline, being developed by 55 organisations.

In total, CHOs hold $18 billion in assets, up 11 per cent on last year, with $12 billion of that being land and buildings. That total is made up of $11.6 billion in net equity and $6.3 billion liabilities, including $1.8 billion in borrowings to buy or build dwellings.

The sector is also largely self-sustaining. It has $1.8 billion in total revenue each year, with around $1.1 billion of that (or 61 per cent) coming from rents.

Most importantly for the federal government and its quest to provide more affordable homes, the average rent for each CHO tenancy each year is just $9767.

“Public and community housing has grown by only 4 per cent over the past 25 years while our population has increased by 30 per cent. Only 1 to 2 per cent of housing built each year is social and affordable housing – far short of the 16 per cent we managed in the 1950s and 1960s,” Ms Hayhurst said.

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