National Affordable Housing Agreement
In this chapter, the committee considers Commonwealth initiatives or
programs that could contribute to, or are making, a material difference to
improving people's access to affordable housing. The main focus, however, is on
the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA).
NAHA is a broad-ranging, ongoing housing agreement which commits a
significant amount of Commonwealth funding to the states and territories
through a national specific purpose payment.
Commencing on 1 January 2009, NAHA replaced the Commonwealth State Housing
Agreement and the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program.
Its aspirational objective is for:
...all Australians [to] have access to affordable, safe and
sustainable housing that contributes to social and economic participation.
This agreement provides the overarching framework within which the
Commonwealth and states and territories work together to 'improve housing
affordability and homelessness outcomes for Australians'.
In relation to the provision of social housing, NAHA aims to promote
affordable, secure housing via allocations policies and support to those with multiple
forms of disadvantage.
According to the Department of Social Services, the agreement 'identifies
individual and shared roles for the Commonwealth and the states, as well as
performance benchmarks and reform directions'.
National Partnership agreements (NPA) define the mutually agreed
objectives, outcomes, outputs and performance benchmarks or milestones related
to the delivery of specific projects, improvements in service delivery or
reform. Of the NPAs that were established to support NAHA, two remain active:
the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness; and
the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
The agreements ensure that all levels of government are committed to the
same framework of outcomes, measures of progress, and policy directions. In
2013–14, the Australian Government provided $2.0 billion to state and territory
governments for housing and homelessness services through NPAs in support of
These agreements were considered in chapters on Indigenous Australians (chapter
17) and homelessness (chapter 18).
Criticism of NAHA
The Commonwealth contributes approximately $1.3 billion each year to the
states and territories through NAHA
and, as noted in the previous chapter, $115 million through the NPAH.
Despite this substantial contribution to affordable housing, many submitters
criticised several aspects of the agreement and identified areas where the
implementation of the agreement could be improved.
Greater accountability and
A number of submitters cited the need to improve the agreement's
accountability and transparency. For example, Ms Phillips, Australian Council
of Social Service, noted the paucity of data on the number of new dwellings
that have been constructed as a result of the agreements.
JELD-WEN, a leading supplier of windows and doors, stated:
There has been a gaping lack of information on program
outcomes. The paucity of readily available information on the effectiveness of
Commonwealth-funded State housing programs and initiatives has reduced
transparency and diminished accountability and contributed to uncertainty about
the value received from the commitment of scarce Commonwealth taxpayer funds to
joint housing programs delivered by State Governments.
The National Shelter added that accountability mechanisms around housing
needed to include accurate and publicly available data on a number of matters. They
involved the 'overall supply of social and affordable housing, including an
accounting for new developments, acquisitions, disposals and transfers between
parts of the social housing system'.
Mr Flynn, Mission Australia, agreed that greater transparency would
improve the system.
The Council to Homeless Persons noted that NAHA moved to a single agreement
that measured progress based on outcomes. In its view, not only have the
outcomes defined in the agreement proved difficult to measure over the relevant
funding periods, but this has led to reductions in many states' own revenue
contributions to housing and homelessness assistance.
Mr Myers, National Affordable Housing Consortium, compared the $1.3 billion put
into NAHA with the result of 'a declining stock base and a lack of transparency'.
The policy goals set out in NAHA are broad—but there are no
mechanisms in there to see what investment is happening and what it is doing to
the overall stock. Part of that investment could be competitive—across states,
not-for-profits and partnerships with the private sector.
The Western Australian Local Government Association referred to a
'strong need to evaluate the effectiveness of the policies as part of the
renegotiation of the NAHA', including taking account of local government
Tackling supply side
Most witnesses agreed with the view that there was 'definitely a supply
problem' with affordable housing.
Master Builders Australia (MBA) was of the view that NAHA was flawed in its
design in that it focused on the symptoms of the problem and not the causes. In
its view, NAHA should be designed to clear the roadblocks to improved housing
affordability rather than provide government subsidies and other forms of
Mr Leitch, Department of Housing and Public Works, Queensland, informed the
committee that one of the things his department struggled with was that, while
the last national affordable housing agreement spoke to broader affordable
housing measures, there was 'nothing in there that actually puts the rubber on
the road, so to speak'.
Mr Myers indicated that the National Affordable Housing Consortium would
like to see the Commonwealth's activity focused on new supply and not necessarily
on operational subsidies and to see a competitive arrangement for new supply.
Dr Winter, AHURI, also explained that while the funds through NAHA were
distributed on a per capita basis across the states, there was no incentive for
spending those funds to generate new supply. He observed:
Effectively state governments are using those funds to
maintain a falling percentage of public housing dwellings across the country.
We need a National Affordable Housing Agreement that links that expenditure to
the creation of net new supply of affordable dwellings in Australia.
From Dr Winter's perspective, the current federal financial agreements do
not link funds with supply. He suggested that NAHA needed to reintroduce and
retie matching of funds with the creation of new affordable houses and have some
of the 'discipline of the old Commonwealth–State Housing Agreement'.
Mr Cant, Brisbane Housing Company Ltd, spoke of the latent equity in the
current pool of public housing and the potential to use it to boost and renew
the supply of affordable housing. He advocated strongly for maintaining and
building on the current stock of social housing.
With this objective in mind, Mr Cant suggested that funding through NAHA be
made conditional to ensure that the stock of social housing was protected and
that there was reinvestment in this stock. He added:
If we have this model where 400,000 dwellings are going to be
made fit for purpose over a 20-year period—they are going to be aligned to be
the right size for the demographic, they are going to be new, they are going to
be purpose-built and they are going to be in the right locations—that is where
the money should be conditioned. Someone in Canberra would say, 'You can have
the money provided you demonstrate to us that it is serving this purpose'.
Consistent with the overall thrust of evidence, Ms Croce, Community
Housing Federation of Australia, argued that as part of a growth strategy, NAHA
should be reformed substantially in order to refocus the agreement 'on growing
the supply of affordable housing'.
Adequacy of funds
Dr Milligan, City Futures Research Centre, referred to the forerunner to
NAHA, the Commonwealth–State Housing Agreement. She noted that the money put
into that agreement as capital was 'insufficient to retain continuing growth in
that system'. In her view, instead of developing additional public housing, the
money was used to underwrite the operating losses of the state housing
Dr Milligan explained that NAHA was an attempt to reset the agenda for the
supply of affordable housing and to maintain and modernise existing public
According to Dr Milligan, however, the funding base essentially remained the
same, except with a small indexation factor, which did not address the fundamental
deficit problem. Also, the requirements on the states to match funding and to
provide certain levels of investment into new supply were dropped.
...whoever delivers the housing has to be able to deliver it in
a way where the revenue and the subsidy meet their costs, and a national
government has an interest in ensuring that there is an adequate level of
public housing or social housing or community housing commensurate with
Mr Leitch, Queensland Department of Housing and Public Works, also noted
that the agreement was an aspirational goal. Further, the funding stream that
sat within NAHA was 'similar to that that came through the Commonwealth–State
Housing Agreement before it'.
Despite this criticism about the lack of accountability and
transparency; the need to focus on boosting the supply of affordable housing; and
the inadequacy of funding, no one suggested that NAHA should be abandoned. For
example, the Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia noted that schemes such
as NAHA must be continued and developed to ensure that young people do not
experience high levels of housing stress, which may have detrimental effects on
While critical, many witnesses offered advice on ways to improve NAHA.
Areas for improvement
In particular, some witnesses saw the need for the government not only to
articulate the purpose of NAHA clearly and definitely—to increase the supply of
affordable housing—but to ensure that funding was tied to this objective.
Further, the reporting mechanism around the funding should be more robust and
transparent, producing accurate and reliable data on how money was being spent
and the results—number of new dwellings, acquisitions, dispatches, developments
The committee has discussed the value that would flow to community
housing providers with the transfer of public housing stock including title to
that sector. In its submission, Shelter WA suggested that through NAHA, the
Commonwealth and states and territories reaffirm their commitment to transfer a
substantial proportion of social housing stock to community housing organisations
to facilitate growth. This undertaking would include title transfer to ensure
properties could be used to leverage investment in new housing, within the
context of a clear overall growth strategy for the social housing sector.
Dr Clark referred to NAHA and the national partnership agreements that sit
beneath it. She accepted that there was a lack of accountability: no real
template or outcomes that required performance reporting. In her view, however:
...the new federal government are in an ideal position to
insist on the outcomes and the type of reporting they would like to see and to
show this leadership, not just withdrawing millions of dollars of funding to
the states but to insist that the money does not just go to admin fees for
large departments and contract managers and that it is seen as an investment in
this area to save money later.
Ms Palumbo suggested that NAHA provided the Australian Government with
the best lever for reform. She explained:
When the Commonwealth drives reform, things happen; when it
is left to the states, our experience has been that things meander. So a really
driven reform that is actually attached to that agreement is probably the most
effective way we can look at genuine change, where that agreement says that we
actually want to have a mixed model, we want a multi-provider system, we want
to see different business models operating in this state, not an old and tried
monolithic model that means that nobody can really do anything other than on
National Shelter recommended that COAG embed NAHA as a permanent part of
its decision-making and expand it to include all forms of housing assistance.
Its coverage would include 'funding for social housing, funding for affordable
rental housing, rent assistance, programs to support home ownership and
The Community Housing Federation of Australia advocated the
establishment of an affordable housing growth fund that would ensure the states
and territories receive money on a per capita basis but would have to meet
The Council to Homeless Persons stated its belief that the NAHA needed to be split
into three funding streams—an operating stream (funded on a per dwelling
basis), a capital stream and a homelessness support stream (both funded on a
per capita basis).
Certainty of funding
As noted earlier, many submitters referred to the uncertainty
surrounding funding arrangements for affordable housing and homelessness. Some
spoke of a 'stop and go' approach to housing policy. According to Mr Leitch,
it was an imperative to get clarity about how the funding for the next year was
going to be treated in terms of how the Queensland Department of Housing and
Public Works would respond.
Mr Comrie noted that the community housing sector was becoming increasingly
apprehensive about talk of the possible withdrawal of funding for NAHA and NPAH.
The Commonwealth Government has expressed interest in examining ways to
improve the operation of NAHA to ensure greater transparency and accountability
as well as having incentives that would increase the supply of dwellings.
In February 2015, Ms Hand told the committee that for some time the government
had been grappling with NAHA and the lack of real metrics or performance measures
to assess whether supply was 'actually increasing in terms of the funding that
is going to the states to deliver houses'. She explained:
The former minister, Minister Andrews, was very keen to see
some reform to that agreement to make it much more transparent and accountable,
and to have performance metrics to try to influence and see some progress in
the area of supply. As I said, there is $6.5 billion from the Commonwealth and
that does not count what the states and territories put in that goes to the
issue of solving housing supply and affordability. Yet, as you just said, it is
still a big issue. The department has definitely looked at this with the
current government as to how we increase the accountability mechanisms to
actually deliver these houses.
The Department of Social Services informed the committee that the
Commonwealth was committed to working with all state and territory governments
to achieve better results.
The criticism levelled at NAHA during the inquiry was designed to be
constructive and to offer suggestions on how this agreement could be more
effective especially in adding to the supply of affordable housing. There was
concern about the lack of sound data, the difficulty in measuring outcomes and
poor reporting and evaluation processes.
Clearly there is a need to restore and build people's confidence in NAHA
and provide assurance that the money being spent on affordable housing is
making a difference as intended. In addition, accountability should be
strengthened so that outcomes can be linked back directly to the funding
dedicated to that purpose and can be measured and evaluated. With this in mind,
the committee makes the following recommendation.
The committee recommends that through COAG, NAHA be reinvigorated with
particular emphasis on improving accountability and transparency. The committee
recommends that the following particular reforms of NAHA should be considered
and acted upon:
expand the agreement to include all forms of housing
assistance—funding for social housing, affordable rental housing, rent
assistance and the various programs to support people to remain housed;
develop measurable benchmarks and ensure these benchmarks are
used to evaluate the effectiveness of government expenditure on affordable
improve the collection and publication of data, especially on
the number of new homes added to the pool of social housing; and
ensure that funding is tied directly to concrete outcomes, for
example, by tightening conditions on Commonwealth funding to the states that
would realise growth in the stock of social housing.
Furthermore, the committee understands the area of housing and
homelessness is to be considered as part of the broader Federation White Paper
process and consequently makes the following recommendation.
The committee recommends that the Federation White Paper process consider
carefully NAHA in this critical area of transparency and accountability. Importantly,
that the committee's findings feed into the White Paper process with the aim to
improve NAHA so that a robust evaluation and reporting framework is established
ensuring that the funds allocated to improving affordable housing can be
tracked and the intended outcomes measured and evaluated.
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