Chapter 2The Housing Australia Future Fund
2.1There was broad and enthusiastic support among a majority of stakeholders who participated in the inquiry for the government’s housing package, including the establishment of the Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) and National Housing Supply and Affordability Council (Council).
2.2Stakeholders generally saw the HAFF as an opportunity to begin to address the shortfall in the supply of affordable housing in Australia. Anglicare Australia welcomed the 'timely' introduction of the bills and applauded the government's 'desire to show leadership in this area', and PowerHousing Australia said:
The housing legislative package has the potential to be a transformative reform, that creates a structural shift in the housing system which will enable the housing needs of significantly more Australians to be met.
2.3A number of inquiry participants also believed the package could be strengthened or improved, or that certain aspects of the proposal would benefit from being refined.
2.4This chapter outlines support for the HAFF, along with discussion around the scale and nature of the investment. It looks at evidence relating to the Future Fund model, definitions and criteria for targeting funds, eligibility of grant recipients, and aspects of the grants process and funding mechanisms.
2.5Evidence on the remit and institutional architecture of the Council, and comments on the Amendment bill, including the proposed remit of Housing Australia, are discussed in Chapter 3.
Support for the HAFF
2.6Stakeholders from across the housing sector, including industry, community housing organisations (CHOs), research bodies and charities, welcomed the establishment of the HAFF.
2.7National Shelter, the peak housing access and affordability organisation, described the HAFF legislation as 'the most critical housing legislation to be brought forward for the past ten years'. The package of bills establishes both the HAFF—a 'significant vehicle' for delivering social and affordable housing—and the 'strategic architecture' of the agencies which will inform and guide national investment.
2.8Master Builders Australia (MBA) observed that Australian governments 'collectively spend $16 billion annually on direct housing assistance', which could be better targeted with national coordination. The HAFF will finance investment in social and affordable housing, delivered through Housing Australia, and the Council will coordinate research, reporting and advice on a national level. MBA and the Housing Industry Association (HIA) both saw the HAFF as an opportunity to provide for better national coordination, and to establish housing 'as a core infrastructure priority for the Federal Government'. HIA noted:
While many of the levers in housing delivery across the housing continuum are the responsibility of states and territories, there has always been a key role for the federal government. The creation of Housing Australia is pivotal to making housing supply a national priority and support the housing industry to meet the needs of all Australians.
2.9The City Futures Research Centre (City Futures) said the HAFF represents a 'timely re-assertion of national leadership on housing'. PowerHousing Australia—a large, national network of community housing providers—reported that community housing providers are 'enthusiastic' about the HAFF, the Council, and the planned reforms to create Housing Australia. Anglicare Australia maintained that the government 'has inherited decades of under-investment in social housing', and the Commonwealth is 'the only level of government' with the capability to 'provide the necessary funding and leadership to help ensure that every Australian has access to a home they can afford'.
2.10Highlighting the economic and social benefits of investing in social housing, Industry Super Australia (ISA) said 'every dollar invested in social and affordable housing delivers two dollars in benefits from health cost savings, reduced crime, better education outcomes, and increased productivity'. The HAFF model has the potential to 'close the funding gap', encouraging investors to support projects in affordable housing:
Putting in place a dedicated fund for this purpose—although novel—creates an important institutional safeguard to guarantee recurrent funding that should be more resilient to the political cycle than discretionary budget expenditures that fluctuate according to the priorities of the government of the day. Furthermore, it is a model which can be easily scaled over time with additional top ups to the HAFF.
2.11Various stakeholders highlighted the urgent need for affordable housing and the role that the HAFF would play in helping to address this need.
2.12Representatives from the community housing sector highlighted the 'absolutely urgent' need for the HAFF. National Director of the Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA), MsRebeccaOelkers said:
It's one of the biggest issues, I believe, facing Australia as a nation. It's absolutely abysmal that we've got the shortfall that we do—currently, that's around 600,000 people either homeless or living in housing stress. That's predicted only to increase, to close to a million over the next period of time. It's unacceptable; it's not what Australians want to see, and we have to put something in place right now.
2.13The need for urgency was repeated by the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA), which highlighted the need to 'start building immediately':
The cost to deliver housing today is 30% higher than it was 2 years ago. The long term average for delivery costs is always increasing. The longer government waits to implement a program, the more expensive the same amount of new social/affordable housing will be to deliver. Quite simply, with every day that passes, it is costing them more and more for the same outcome and that’s why we need to start asap with the option for program malleability in the coming years.
2.14Representing the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community‑controlled housing sector, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association (NATSIHA) proposed that this 'significant and much needed new investment … should contribute to better housing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people'.
2.15Another reason for supporting the HAFF was provided by the Grattan Institute, which suggested the model can help overcome the political difficulties in securing funding for social housing:
It's proved to be very politically difficult, particularly at the federal level, to achieve a commitment for social housing through the budget process. This is a clear challenge that's coming down the line, consistent with the existing challenges that we see other future funds being used for. Using this particular vehicle, the Housing Australia Future Fund we see is an appropriate way to try to deal with that challenge.
2.16This point was echoed by Dr Michael Fortheringham, Managing Director of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), who said the HAFF provides an opportunity to remove the supply of social and affordable housing from the budget cycle:
…we need to be thinking about 20-year plans, not five-year plans. If we just look at the current budget cycle and forward estimates as a frame of reference for our investment in our housing systems, we're not going to solve our housing systems. We need to be thinking about a generational change here.
The scale of the investment
2.17Inquiry participants acknowledged that the HAFF represents the biggest investment in social and affordable housing in decades. While this is welcome, a number of submitters advocated for more investment towards 'a long-term reduction in housing insecurity'.
2.18The Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University (Centre for Urban Research) said that, on national Census night in 2021, housing needs 'were not being met for approximately 640,000 or one in fifteen households'.
2.19Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CHIA, Ms Wendy Hayhurst explained:
Australia has a major housing unaffordability challenge, and its lower income renter households are at the real sharp end. The census in 2021 tells us that 659,000 households are in rental stress or are homeless—one in 15 Australian households. Families are living in tents; women and children are returning to violent homes because they've got nowhere to go; and one in five Indigenous Australians are living in overcrowded dwellings. That's the challenge.
2.20Anglicare Australia welcomed the initiative but said the measures 'do not match the scale of the housing crisis'. It argued the crisis is not caused by a general deficit of available housing, but by an undersupply of social and affordable housing. Anglicare noted that governments have moved away from the provision of social housing over recent decades, towards 'demand-side assistance' measures, like Rent Assistance. This, it argued, has actually increased the cost of housing, decreased the availability of affordable rentals, and resulted in a situation where 500000 new social and affordable homes will be needed nationally by 2026.
2.21Representatives from the Antipoverty Centre, who have lived experience of housing insecurity and living in social housing, urged the government to see safe and secure housing as 'an investment in people's lives and futures', rather than a cost. Ms Mel Powersmith argued that the HAFF 'is not a solution to the housing crisis' and suggested substantial direct investment was required.
2.22National Shelter argued governments will need to provide 25000 new 'social dwellings' per year—increasing current supply to 10 per cent 'of all dwellings'—to meet this demand. National Shelter considered it 'critical' that the fund be established now, with the capacity to be scaled up in future.
2.23A 2018 review of the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation (NHFIC) concluded that investment of $290 billion would be required over twenty years to meet the 'current and projected shortfall'. Another 800000 net additional dwellings would be needed by 2035, requiring significant investments by governments and the private sector. In this context, MBA suggested the scale of investment in the HAFF should be increased from $10billion to $20billion. Anglicare Australia also proposed a larger investment, saying governments needed to build 25000 'social homes each year for two decades' to address the present shortfall.
2.24The proposal to invest $20 billion was supported by modelling from the Grattan Institute:
…if we saw the fund increase by that size, over the next five years we would see 60,000 dwellings being constructed. That would be enough to reverse the decline in social housing, as a share of the total housing stock.
2.25While some argued for a higher initial investment, community housing providers (CHPs) noted that the HAFF is designed to provide a 'scalable', long‑term mechanism for addressing these shortfalls. MsOelkers said:
Thirty thousand has to be seen as a start. I reiterate the comments that others have made: this is proving up a model; this is proving up a way of doing something that can be scalable. Everybody in this session would agree that this has to be the beginning of it because that gap is only widening, and we have to reduce it.
2.26MrNicholasProud, CEO of PowerHousing Australia described the HAFF as a 'ray of sunshine' for CHPs, saying it will 'provide the foundations for the replication of investment, innovative financing and opportunities to deliver more homes'. Ms Oelkers added that the HAFF will provide much needed 'predictability' for CHPs.
2.27The Property Council said that, while it would support further investment in the fund, it would not like to see this issue 'get in the way' of legislating the HAFF now:
I don't want, as I implied, pure policy to be the enemy of good, swift policy. These targets will be very hard to meet unless they're formally part of the system very quickly and the bill is passed into legislation. There will already be time pressures on delivery of those 40,000 and for the government's broader National Housing Accord, as well as those million homes we've been talking about being delivered by 2029. There are huge challenges to delivering that, even though most of it's at market, because of the moribund nature of state and territory planning systems, so the quicker all of these mechanisms are up and running the better.
2.28Anglicare Australia and the Centre for Urban Research suggested adding a clause to the bill that would require government to 'at least maintain [the HAFF's] value, and reinvest any surplus generated back into the Fund'.
2.29It is noted that the HAFF is just one of a number of significant government housing investments announced in the October 2022–23 Budget. Other significant measures were:
the $350.0 million National Housing Accord, which will fund states and territories to deliver an additional 10000 affordable homes over five years, from 2024–25;
the $9.2 million Closing the Gap Housing Policy Partnership; and
the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, budgeted at $13.4 million over four years from 2022–23, and $4.2 million per year ongoing.
Purpose and remit
2.30The Object of the HAFF bill is to 'provide a funding mechanism':
(a)to address acute housing needs, including the acute housing needs of:
(i)Indigenous persons; and
(b)to enable support to be provided to increase the availability of social housing and affordable housing.
2.31Homelessness Australia argued that the HAFF's objective should be 'much stronger and more focused', and should specify that the HAFF is designed to increase 'rental housing and not just affordable housing'. CEO of Homelessness Australia, Ms Kate Colvin proposed:
…carrying the proportions of housing type that are included in Labor's policy for the Housing Australia Future Fund—two-thirds social housing, one-third affordable housing and a specified amount of housing for women and children fleeing violence—into the legislation. Currently, the legislation is silent on those proportions.
2.32Some stakeholders suggested the HAFF bill could be strengthened by setting out clearer objectives, adding targets for key sectors, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing, or including priority groups that are currently excluded or underrepresented in the bill. The Centre for Urban Research was concerned that the bill does not clearly link funding to 'a needs assessment', or target the provision and maintenance of public housing.
2.33Some stakeholders suggested including references to rental housing in the bill; for instance, CHIA suggested inserting the word 'rental' between 'affordable' and 'housing' 'throughout the legislation'.
2.34NATSIHA sought clarification on how disbursements would be allocated. The National Agreement on Closing the Gap commits all governments to 'increase the proportion of services delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations' and ensure relevant new funding initiatives allocate a 'meaningful proportion' to Indigenous organisations with 'relevant expertise, particularly community-controlled organisations'. NATSIHA recommended the HAFF bill be amended to ensure the HAFF meets these commitments.
2.35Mr Darren Smith, CEO of Aboriginal Housing Victoria, highlighted the housing crisis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:
Aboriginal homelessness and housing exclusion is so much more than overcrowding, yet repeatedly, we see policies and initiatives that fail to go beyond this specific symptom of a broken and discriminatory housing system.
Whilst we do not want to take focus or investment away from our brothers and sisters living in remote or very remote communities, we do need the government to recognise and invest in the housing needs of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Aboriginal homelessness is culturally distinct. The drivers of Aboriginal homelessness and the entry and exit points are different. The notion of 'home' and 'homelessness' have distinct and unique meanings for Aboriginal peoples.
Our community's housing challenges are complex and without direct and prolonged strategic investments, they will only get worse.
2.36Mr Smith observed that there are 'significant housing needs' in both urban and regional areas and the HAFF needs to address 'all of the issues around Aboriginal housing across all geographical areas', not just remote housing. MrSmith also advocated for an urgent focus on developing targets for the HAFF to address 'the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the homelessness services system':
It is a source of national shame that the first peoples of this nation are the most excluded, the most disadvantaged and the most dispossessed when it comes to housing. We urge the government to recognise that access to safe, affordable housing is central to closing the gap. It is no longer acceptable that outcomes for Aboriginal people are an afterthought. Aboriginal targets must be adopted to drive forward progress and built actual capacity and capability, which history tells us otherwise will not occur.
2.37Aboriginal Housing Victoria suggested government legislate a target for 10percent of new dwellings delivered under the HAFF to be specifically allocated to Aboriginal community controlled organisations. Director of Strategy and Performance, Ms Lisa Briggs explained that Aboriginal housing providers have 'gone beyond' the issue of overcrowding and are 'very much focussed on builds'. For the HAFF to be genuinely aligned with Closing the Gap, a target needs to be legislated and supported.
2.38Ms Briggs urged the government to identify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a priority group by issuing ministerial instructions outlining specific spending—as it has in relation to women and children impacted by family violence and older women at risk of homelessness. Ms Briggs contended that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 'have to be in that', 'we can't be an oversight anymore; we need long-term commitment'.
2.39A number of inquiry participants argued the bill should identify people with disability as a priority group. JFA Purple Orange outlined a growing national need for accessible housing, and a role for the Commonwealth in sending 'a clear signal' to industry that future housing projects should be accessible, as well affordable. It suggested the bills be amended to give 'equal attention' to increasing the supply of accessible dwellings, and that grants be conditional on housing projects complying with the National Construction Code (NCC) Livable Housing Design Standard. This view was similarly supported by the Tasmanian Government.
2.40In response to regional housing issues, Mr David Fisher, CEO of Housing Plus suggested there be a 'regional allocation of the funds' to ensure regional communities 'benefit in a proportionate manner'.
2.41Inquiry participants from the building industry argued for a broader focus, saying governments must support 'the delivery of all forms of homes along the housing continuum'. HIA said that a fall in supply 'in any one sector' directly affects affordability other sectors. The Property Council of Australia (Property Council) argued that increasing the supply of affordable housing requires reforming 'unproductive state planning systems', releasing more land, and supporting 'improved housing choices' across the 'national housing solutions mix'. The Property Council argued that government support for a variety of housing across the spectrum 'will apply downward pressure on the cost of at market and key worker housing, whether to rent or to buy, as well as the provision of social housing'.
2.42HIA observed that the Council bill recognises that the Council's work will 'reach beyond the social and affordable housing sector', addressing wider supply and demand issues. However, HIA was disappointed that this same remit is not spelled out in the HAFF bill. Conversely, stakeholders including Anglicare Australia and the Centre for Urban Research cautioned against the HAFF being used for purposes other than providing social and affordable housing.
2.43Commenting on the broad range of suggestions for strengthening the HAFF, UDIA said the model 'doesn't have to be perfect because chasing perfection is basically chasing inaction'.
The Housing Australia Future Fund
The Future Fund model
2.44Stakeholders welcomed the increased investment and focus on social and affordable housing, citing the benefits of the financing of social and affordable housing being taken out of the political and electoral cycle, and particularly the model of the Future Fund to generate returns and a secure supply of funding. Others supported the model, but wanted to address some concerns around how it will be implemented. This section considers this evidence, along with evidence from the agencies responsible for the HAFF.
2.45Most stakeholders who participated in the inquiry supported the Future Fund model. MBA described the HAFF as a 'measured next step' that will build on previous investments to achieve more in the current 'capacity constrained market-place'. UDIA maintained that the Future Fund model provides 'aframework' for governments to 'provide affordable housing and support real options for Australians to access the fundamental right to long term, secure housing'.
2.46A minority of submitters were, however, critical of the Future Fund model, saying 'spending on social housing will depend on the returns of the fund'. DrJohn Quiggin, Professor of Economics, University of Queensland (UQ), was concerned there is no guaranteed funding to meet social and affordable housing targets 'if in any year the Social Housing Fund fails to make money'. Further, he argued the government 'could probably do what it has promised to do for $450million peryear' in direct investment.
2.47Rather than using the fund to raise profits, then paying community housing providers to build the houses, Dr Quiggin suggested governments just borrow 'at low rates' and invest directly 'in physical and social infrastructure'. This view was echoed in evidence from Dr Cameron K. Murray, Research Fellow at the Henry Halloran Trust, University of Sydney, who said:
The basic problem is that the HAFF does not produce new below-market housing of any sort. It instead uses money to buy non-housing assets.
Just like forcing households to buy non-housing assets with their income makes it harder for them to buy a home to live in, so too does the HAFF make it harder for governments to invest in housing.
2.48Dr Murray noted that housing itself is profitable 'financial asset', with public housing stock in New South Wales having increased in value from $32 billion in 2012 to $51 billion in 2020. This 7.8per cent 'compound return' was mirrored in the increase to the value of Australian dwellings (7.7 per cent per year) since 2006. Over the same timeframe, the Future Fund has 'earned a return of 7.8 per cent per year'. DrMurray argued that investing directly in building housing in Australia 'probably would have made more money' than the Future Fund, and suggested government should invest the $10 billion directly into building or acquiring new public housing. Dr Murray also expressed concerns about the overhead costs the managing the HAFF.
2.49Mr Brendan Coates, from the Grattan Institute, disagreed with this argument. He noted that both Labor and Coalition governments have made use of the Future Fund model 'to generate a higher return to meet federal government obligations or commitments', and this has been effective. Addressing concerns about uneven cashflow from the fund, Mr Coates said:
…while the legislation does not require an annual flow of subsidies to be paid out each year, I think the concern is probably overblown compared to where it will apply in practice. For one, other future funds have continued to disburse moneys even when the fund hasn't given a return in a year. So that's certainly the case for the Medical Research Future Fund. It's also the case for the Future Drought Fund, where annual payments of $100 million are withdrawn each year irrespective of the returns.
2.50Mr Coates also noted that, while the Future Fund made a loss in 2022, housing assets also lost value. The 'first principle of a future fund approach', Mr Coates explained is that:
…you will generate the benefit of the equity risk premium. You will get a larger return on funds that you're committing than if you'd used the equivalent funds just to pay down debt or in the event, as this future fund is applying, you get a higher return borrowing the money, on average, over time, paying interest costs on the debt, then generating a higher return by investing in growth assets—whether it be equities, housing, infrastructure, bonds or whatnot. That is the rationale for having future funds in general.
2.51Representatives from Treasury and the Department of Finance indicated fees, or 'direct costs' associated with the HAFF, should be in the 'range of up to 0.4percent', and that the 'returns net of costs are also in the forward estimates'. However, actual costs 'will ultimately depend on both the final form of the investment mandate and the investments that the Future Fund would make'.
Grants to states and territories
2.52Section 18(3) of the HAFF bill provides for grants to states or territories in relation to 'acute', 'social' and 'affordable' housing. While some stakeholders preferred funding to go to CHPs, Mr Coates said the government 'should be agnostic' about whether social housing is built and maintained by community housing providers or state governments:
There are arguments in favour of both. Community housing providers tend to be better at offering wraparound services, but state governments tend to be better placed to manage tenants who are the hardest to manage and have the highest needs. So, a mix between those two is appropriate.
2.53Some stakeholders were concerned these grants may result in states and territories reducing their existing commitments in these areas. To prevent this, NATSIHA suggested the bill should articulate that 'there remains a clear obligation, role and funding requirement for the states and territories in the delivery of social and affordable housing'. Similarly, Homelessness NSW CEO, Mr Trina Jones, proposed that grants to states and territories be provided with an obligation for 'matched funds' from that jurisdiction:
In New South Wales, there are 57,000 households on the housing waiting list, and every year, about 35,000 residential dwellings get built in New South Wales. Approximately 700 of those are social housing, or about two per cent. At that rate of investment, it will take over 80 years to have a safe home for everybody on that list. So when we talk about 10-year waiting lists, that's not true; it's closer to an 80-year waiting list. So we have to see a significant investment.
2.54CHIA proposed there is a need to ensure any payments made direct to states and territories 'are subject to the same treatment as those for other parties - i.e. that they are subject to a robust tendering and assessment process'.
Cap on disbursements
2.55A number of stakeholders across multiple sectors argued that the $500 million cap on annual disbursements from the fund should be removed or indexed to increase year on year. ISA said this was their most critical recommendation, and CHIA maintained that this would provide 'assurance of the adequacy and certainty of HAFF cashflows to meet future obligations', and noted that payments made direct to CHPs under similar government programs are generally indexed, reflecting the 'commercial reality that costs and expenses rise at higher rate than income from rents'. While the cap is appropriate now, CHIA estimated it would no longer be adequate to fund delivery 'beyond year five'. However, if this approach is not adopted, government should commit to 'at least three yearly reviews of the disbursement cap and a clear process to trigger an earlier review should this be timely'.
2.56ISA pointed to the example provided by Queensland's Housing Investment Fund (HIF), established in June 2021. The Queensland Government moved to double the capital investment in the fund in October 2022, after realising the initial investment was inadequate to meet the scheme's targets. Factors in the decision included the rising cost of building materials and 'the need to provide a long-term, sustainable source of funding for the Government's housing initiatives'.
2.57Mr Coates argued it 'makes no sense' for the cap not to be indexed to inflation, given that the HAFF will provide payments to community housing providers and the states, and 'the cost of delivering that social housing in terms of the subsidy gap will rise each year in line with rent'.
2.58If the HAFF is to go ahead with the current model, Dr Quiggin proposed government guarantees a 'a floor in spending so that we got a more or less stable flow of funds going into social housing'. Mr Coates also supported a 'floor', saying:
…perhaps the minimum should be $400 million, or perhaps it should be made clear in the legislation that the money will not be used to service the interest costs and the debt to raise the fund, which is another way of making sure that there's a minimum flow of funding from the fund to support social housing.
2.59Asked about the proposal for a 'floor' in spending, Mr Scott Dilley from the Department of Finance said 'it would be odd for the legislation to mandate' how much government should spend each year. However, the quantum of spending 'would be considered as part of the budget cycle and brought forward by relevant ministers'.
2.60Representatives from Treasury and the Department of Finance said the cap is simply a ceiling on how much can be removed from the HAFF, not a limit on government spending on social and affordable housing, with a number of other initiatives in place alongside the HAFF.
2.61Mr Dilley explained:
The legislation, as your question indicates, doesn't provide for indexation. It's not the government's policy to do so. All things are possible, but the purpose of the investment mandates on similar funds … is that those investment mandates will cover off both the target rate of return that the Future Fund Board of Guardians would be aiming to achieve and the level of risk that I touched on earlier. I would envisage, although that investment mandate hasn't been issued yet, that we'd see a similar construct here. … Were CPI to be applied, then there's a greater chance that the capital is drawn down, particularly in early years, if that indexation were to result in a drawdown on the fund at a rate faster than could be replenished through the investment mandate.
2.62Instead, the legislation requires a review in five years' time, and for Parliament to adjust disbursement cap through legislative amendment. This mirrors the legislative architecture of other future funds.
HAFF Investment Mandate
2.63ISA observed the likely impact of recent 'significant increases' in interest rates and building construction costs on the HAFF, saying:
Although the investment mandate for the HAFF is not available yet, ISA strongly recommends it is set at CPI + 4.0% (or a nominal 6.5% assuming inflation returns to the middle of the target range). This would facilitate the maintenance in real terms of the annual funding cap of $500 m per annum and maintenance of the capital in the HAFF in real terms.
2.64Mr Coates proposed 'an aggressive return mandate for the fund'. The HAFF investment should be aiming to return 'four to five per cent above inflation', in order to 'maximise the returns in the long run for social housing'.
2.65Mr Dilley indicated that Finance is envisaging a less aggressive investment mandate:
With a $500 million annual disbursement, which equates to five per cent of the $10 billion balance, similar to other funds that I've mentioned earlier, an investment mandate in the order of CPI plus two to three per cent is envisaged.
2.66There was discussion around the fact that the Investment Mandate is a non‑disallowable legislative instrument. However, stakeholders generally believed this to be appropriate. Mr Coates noted that investment mandates for existing Future Funds are not disallowable, and suggested this 'precedent should be followed in the case of the Housing Australia Future Fund'. AHURI added that disallowing the Investment Mandate could risk 'a protracted period of inaction on social and affordable housing supply—an area in which substantial action is sorely needed, to the detriment of Australian households'.
2.67ISA and other stakeholders commented on the importance of reducing 'inherent risk' for investors. These stakeholders believed government should clarify exactly how it will ensure contracts entered into will be shielded from 'variability in the income stream from the HAFF'. ISA understood the government intends to 'underwrite [the HAFF] should it fall short in any given year of being sufficient to meet the finance commitments to investors'. However, it argued this should be made explicit in the bills. Similarly, Ms Hayhurst argued:
It's essential that the $500 million, which is what they're talking about it, is guaranteed. It can't be $200 million one year and $100 million in another; it has got to guaranteed and it's got to be indexed, otherwise that's just a regression. I think they're things that definitely just need to be fixed. Because of the certainty, if you've got contractual obligations and you're relying on that money, then you can't suddenly not have it. It's just a no-brainer.
2.68Anglicare Australia and National Shelter called on the government to 'commit' to delivering the homes, regardless of whether the fund delivers the expected returns.
2.69Responding to stakeholder concerns, Treasury said that, over time the HAFF is intended to provide a 'steady funding source', regardless of 'market volatility':
…the bill provides an architecture whereby up to $500 million can be taken from the HAFF. That is not dependent on the returns from the HAFF investment. Within the HAFF funds, there's obviously an initial capital allocation of $10 billion. The intention of Future Funds … is that over time they provide a sustainable, ongoing source of funding.
2.70Asked if the Treasury was confident that 30000 homes could be built based on the projected returns from the $10 billion investment, First Assistant Secretary, Mr Robert Raether said 'the bill provides enough flexibility in order to do that'.
2.71The HAFF would allow for Housing Australia to make independent funding and financing decisions for social and affordable housing projects; independently and at arms-length to the government. This decision making would be supported by the Housing Australia Investment Mandate, with decisions ultimately being made by the independent Board with support of expert advice from the Housing Supply and Affordability Council.
2.72A core purpose of the HAFF is to reduce the 'financing gap' for community housing providers and others to encourage more investment in social and community housing. The financing gap has been described as 'the difference between the costs of delivering new supply of affordable housing (such as the costs associated with acquiring new stock, managing tenancies, dwelling maintenance and depreciation) and the income received (from concessional rents and [Rent Assistance])'. Closing this gap was also a key driver behind the establishment of the NHFIC.
2.73While stakeholders generally supported the HAFF as an effective mechanism for closing the financing gap, some had questions or concerns around how the funding model would function, and what kind of entities could receive funding.
2.74Institutional investors welcomed the model, with Mr Matthew Linden, CEO of ISA, noting the HAFF, in concert with the broader Housing Accord can 'systemically address the investment challenges inherent in affordable housing and has the capacity to increase investment by superfunds'. He noted further that the HAFF funding model provides 'a potential to get sufficient scale and an investable pipeline' and welcomed the capacity of the HAFF to scale over time, enabling funds to have a reliable pipeline.
2.75In answer to a question about the need to turn the tide on investment in social and affordable housing for the predominantly female members of HESTA, Chief Risk and Compliance Officer,Mr Andrew Major noted the HAFF is an attractive solution:
We think it's fundamentally important, and that's one of the reasons why we're keen to support investment opportunities and strategies that allow us to increase the supply of housing. Potentially, that helps our members with those issues as they get older. We would love to be in the position where we could help our members solve those issues. We think that the supply-side response in the provision of more units in this area is a more appropriate way to help solve this than any demand-side response. We think that the HAFF really does give us an opportunity to bring private and public sector capital together to catalyse the supply of social, affordable and other dwellings. That will then support our members as they go through their journeys.
2.76PowerHousing Australia submitted that institutional investors may prefer to have 'an aggregated exposure at significant scale/fund level directly with the Government, rather than underwrite individual projects of this type of scale to multiple CHPs'. To overcome this issue, PowerHousing Australia suggested the funding model should support a larger number of smaller projects, and involve 'broad participation across the Community Housing sector'.
2.77PowerHousing Australia recommended the bill be amended to specify that registered CHPs be 'the recipients' of the scheme. CHPs are regulated entities, and not‑for-profit CHPs 'reinvest all surpluses for the benefit of the community', allowing them to ultimately deliver more affordable housing to meet demand:
As the legislation is currently worded, there are a wide range of possible recipients of HAFF funding. There is a risk that, for example as happened with [the National Rental Affordability Scheme], investor products are designed to attract a wide range of investors including those where there is limited regulatory oversight, which could compromise the long-term intent of the program.
2.78PowerHousing Australia proposed 'an extensive consultation process' be conducted with community housing providers to 'leverage off their experience' and ensure the HAFF can:
facilitate a simple, scalable and bankable funding model; and
to ensure as much of the value of the subsidy as possible ends up on the CHP sector balance sheet as this will be continually reinvested in social and affordable housing, leaving an ongoing and growing legacy.
2.79National Shelter made a similar argument, proposing that funds be spent on housing 'that can be retained in perpetuity' by CHPs, rather than being directed to 'home ownership schemes'. This view was supported by NATSIHA, which said the legislation should also specify that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing funded by the HAFF 'is to be delivered by [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Housing Organisations (ATSICCHOs)]'.
2.80Ms Hayhurst maintained that registered not-for-profit CHPs have 'the track record in developing and managing, for the long term, social affordable rental housing across all parts of Australia'. Ms Hayhurst said the industry is ready to partner with government, investors and the construction industry and is 'confident' that it can deliver 40000 homes under the HAFF and the National Housing Accord. Mr Proud agreed, saying CHPs have 'a longevity of experience in working with providing social and affordable housing in this country'.
2.81However, not all stakeholders supported the focus on CHPs over state-managed public housing models.
2.82Development industry stakeholders argued for flexibility around the types of entities that can receive funding. The Property Council submitted that grants for social and affordable housing should also be able to also flow to 'private housing providers'.
2.83National Shelter argued there is a need for 'a clear, consistent process for application to the fund by all parties', and suggested government utilises a 'competitive tender process for all parties based on both need and the ability to leverage outcomes'.
2.84Mr Mihno of the UDIA commented in the hearing on the success of the NHFIC in being able to deliver housing, and the role of a flexible Investment Mandate:
Housing Australia, which is currently NHFIC, has an incredibly good reputation and has kicked a lot of goals, over the years, doing the bond aggregator et cetera. It's one of the major ways in which the federal government has been able to deliver housing on the ground, so there is a high level of confidence in what they do. It is also necessary for them to be able to conduct research and data that gives them informed decisions that allow them to do those allocations. We think that flexibility is best left in their hands so that they can respond to what is happening at the coalface and are able to act as a market creator between states, the private sector and CHPs, because they are the ones that talk to everybody.
2.85Flexibility in the Housing Australia Investment Mandate was suggested by many submitters, including Mrs Alex Walrden, National Director of Industry Policy at the MBA, who said in her opening statement:
The Housing Australia Future Fund and Housing Australia need to catalyse and crowd in participation of private finances to expand the pool of funding. The 2021 review of NHFIC identified options for this. There needs to be sufficient flexibility in the legislation and the investment mandate to allow for this.
2.86Similarly, Mr Linden agreed flexibility the mandate and the remit of Housing Australia is 'important'.
2.87Dr Michael Fotheringham of AHURI was supportive of the flexibility that was provided through the three funding avenues, saying:
The principle of flexibility is important here. Having multiple channels to work through is valuable. Clearly, the states and territories will advocate that the bulk of the funds go through that channel. Clearly the community housing sector will advocate similar things through their channel. The need for multiple channels is clear.
The bond aggregator
2.88Schedule 3 to the Amendment bill amends the Housing Australia Act 2018 to extend the Commonwealth guarantee of the liabilities of Housing Australia to apply to contracts entered into until 30 June 2028, and provide that the Commonwealth guarantee cannot be revoked earlier than 1 July 2028. This recognises 'the importance of the Bond Aggregator and Housing Australia's role in continuing to offer community housing providers low-cost finance and longer tenor finance'.
2.89ISA welcomed this extension, but suggested the guarantee should run to 'at least 1 July 2030', so it does not expire in the middle of the five‑year period. If not simply extended to 2030, CHIA suggested inserting a requirement that the guarantee be reviewed 'at least 12 months before its planned expiry on 30June2028', and that the bill commit the government 'to a regular schedule of reviews of the guarantee liability cap'.
2.90ISA proposed that HAFF contracts include 'make good clauses', to 'ensure investors are compensated for unanticipated changes in the program by Government in future years'. The Tasmanian Government sought confirmation on whether, and how, the guarantee will apply to grants made to states and territories.
2.91PowerHousing Australia said another approach to limit exposure for institutional investors would be for Housing Australia 'to act as a subordinated debt aggregator'. However, this approach would mean the government was 'guaranteeing payment on the subordinated debt in addition to the senior debt that is already being guaranteed under the NHFIC Bond Aggregator'.
Definitions in the bill
2.92A number of stakeholders proposed that certain definitions be included in the bill. CHIA and National Shelter, among others, proposed the bill include definitions of 'social', 'affordable' and 'acute' housing, and PowerHousing Australia suggested the bill should clarify 'whether grants distributed by direction from the Minister for acute housing needs covers social and affordable housing'.
2.93Broad definitions of key terms are provided in the bills' Explanatory Memorandum, which states:
'Social housing' is an umbrella term that typically refers to community housing and public housing owned by state and territory governments.
'Affordable housing' is generally used to refer to a range of housing types that seek to reduce or eliminate housing stress for low to moderate income households, where housing stress is typically defined as spending more than 30per cent of household income on housing costs. This can include rental housing offered by community housing providers, private or institutional investors at below-market rent rates and pathways to home ownership for low to medium income households (such as shared equity arrangements or subsidised loans).
2.94UDIA acknowledged it 'may be considered preferrable' to retain flexibility in the legislation, but said the multiplicity of 'definitions in the market' make clarity important. AHURI made a similar point, saying:
What is meant by the term 'affordable housing' is often less clear than related terms such as 'public housing', 'social housing' or 'community housing'. There is no common meaning across jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, 'affordable housing' may be defined based on a household's income, for others it may be defined as a housing rent or price that is lower than the prevailing local market. Some jurisdictions use the term only in reference to rental housing, for others it includes home ownership as well.
2.95Representatives from the Treasury suggested 'part of the reason' for leaving the definitions out of the bill is that 'there are a number of different definitions across jurisdictions in Australia', and the department did not want to 'prematurely reduce opportunities'.
2.96AHURI believed it may not be 'necessary (or perhaps even appropriate)' to define 'affordable housing' in the bill, as this could risk 'restricting innovation in funded projects', or making projects incompatible in some jurisdictions. Instead, AHURI suggested making it a requirement that 'all projects funded through the HAFF include clear definitions of what affordable housing is being provided, and to whom'.
2.97The Tasmanian Government did not support 'fixed definitions' in the bill, but suggested that 'providing broad definitions of each type of housing would be useful to ensure that all housing types are considered and not excluded from the Act'.
Review and evaluation
2.98The HAFF bill includes provisions for the operation of the Act to be reviewed by the Housing Minister. The review must consider:
(a)the extent to which grants under section 18, and transfers 25 under section 33, have improved housing outcomes for Australians; and
(b)the extent to which the operation of this Act is meeting the needs of Australians in relation to:
(i)acute housing needs; and
(ii)social housing; and
as the housing market evolves and economic parameters shift.
2.99UDIA submitted that the HAFF should be reviewed within 18 to 24 months to allow adjustments to be made. Similarly, CHIA suggested government brings forward the initial review to two years after establishment, and JFA Purple Orange suggested the HAFF be reviewed after the completion of the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, and 'regularly thereafter'. National Shelter argued for a statutory review to be conducted 'at least 12months' before the planned expiry of the scheme in 2028.
2.100Treasury argued that the HAFF will 'take a while to bed in', and pointed to other, more regular transparency measures, such as annual reporting and online listing of grant disbursements:
It's a big, significant commitment by the government, and getting negotiations on the ground, with individual project proponents, with community housing providers, and drawing in private capital to bring forward this size of the investment—that normal due diligence; that normal contract negotiation—will take a while to come to the fore. I think the idea of the five-yearly review is that it gives a good opportunity to look back once a lot of those projects have got off the ground in order to assess how it's going.
2.101Along with other initiatives, like the National Housing and Homelessness Plan and the landmark National Housing Accord, the Housing Australia Future Fund represents a long-overdue reinvigoration of Commonwealth investment in safe, secure and affordable housing across Australia. Envisaged to be a long‑term reform, the HAFF is expected to fund 30000 new social and affordable homes, and provide another $330million for acute housing needs, in its first five years.
2.102The committee was encouraged by the broad support and enthusiasm for the HAFF expressed by inquiry participants from across the housing, social services and charity sectors, as well as housing providers and the construction industry. It was especially encouraging to hear that community housing providers and the development industry believe the HAFF's targets are achievable.
2.103The committee heard a number of views on the Future Fund investment model, and its appropriateness as a vehicle for funding social and affordable housing. The committee also acknowledges that some stakeholders would like to see the scale of the HAFF increased in line with the scale of the problem. As noted by the Grattan Institute, significant investments in social housing have been difficult to achieve at the Commonwealth level, and recent governments have failed to meet the challenge. The Future Fund model provides an innovative, scalable, workable structure through which the Government can begin to address the shortfall and improve housing outcomes for Australians affected by housing insecurity.
2.104The bills create the HAFF and set up the institutional architecture necessary to support and guide spending. Provisions in the bills target funding to priority groups, without being prescriptive. This ensures the flexibility to reassess priorities as the scheme matures, and direct funding to where it is needed most and where there are opportunities to invest.
2.105The committee notes compelling evidence from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association and Aboriginal Housing Victoria about the need to target investment towards increasing the supply of social and affordable housing for Indigenous Australians; particularly that new suppliers be set up and owned by Aboriginal community controlled housing providers, building their capacity. The committee encourages the government to explore options to make that happen.
2.106The committee supports the bill not including potentially restrictive definitions of 'social' or 'affordable' housing, noting compelling evidence this could limit how funding is provided to states and territories, where definitions vary. The committee does, however, note that examples are provided in the Explanatory Memorandum.
2.107The committee carefully considered stakeholder views that the $500 million cap on disbursements from the HAFF should be indexed to CPI. However, the committee notes this approach has not been applied at the establishment of similar funds.
2.108The committee is satisfied that the proposed five-year statutory review of the HAFF will enable government to re-set its parameters, including the disbursement cap, if appropriate. It will also provide an opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise the performance of the HAFF, along with any adjustments proposed, through consideration of legislative amendments.
2.109A key objective of the HAFF is to stimulate the construction of more social and affordable housing by providing the certainty that housing providers and investors need to take on large and long-term housing projects. The HAFF will support a pipeline of new investment and construction, along with building capacity in the social and community housing sectors.
2.110Pivotal to achieving these aims is the extension of the Commonwealth guarantee of the liabilities of Housing Australia. The bill extends the bond aggregator to 2028, which provides critical investment certainty.
2.111The HAFF and associated reforms represent the biggest Commonwealth investment in social and affordable housing in decades. The model is well-tested and robust, but flexible enough to be refined and scaled up over time.
2.112As numerous stakeholders told the committee, there is no time to waste in establishing the HAFF. The need is substantial and growing across Australia, with existing programs falling far short of meeting the demand. The HAFF provides an opportunity for leadership and coordination at the Commonwealth level that can begin to address Australia's housing affordability crisis.
2.113The committee recommends that the Senate passes the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill 2023.