Home truths on housing affordability

Exploring solutions to the housing affordability crisis in UOW's latest Luminaries webinar

Delving into the shifting landscape of home ownership and living arrangements, UOW's latest Luminaries webinar showcased the socio-economic forces reshaping our understanding of 'home'.

Housing affordability continues to dominate the national conversation. 'The evolution of the castle: Navigating the housing crisis' saw the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Luminaries webinar unravel the intricate dynamics of Australia’s housing crisis.

Delving into the shifting landscape of home ownership and living arrangements, the webinar showcased the socio-economic forces reshaping our understanding of 'home'.

Exploring innovative solutions to ease the crisis and make housing more functional, adaptable, and sustainable, the panel of distinguished experts included:

The expert line-up included:

  • Senior Professor Pauline McGuirk (Moderator) – Director of the UOW’s Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society, and Space (ACCESS). Her work as an urban political geographer focuses on the relationship between urban governance and social, technological, and environmental change in cities.
  • Professor Tim McCarthy – Director of The Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at UOW. This multi-disciplinary facility that aims to be a leader in ideas and solutions that address the challenge of transforming our buildings and built environment into sustainable, resilient and effective places to live and work.
  • Dr Nicole Cook – Acting Associate Dean - Higher Degree Research at UOW. As an Urban Geographer, Dr Cook’s research employs critical geographical approaches to explore the dynamics through which cities and housing systems evolve, examining the spaces and communities that result and their implications for policy.
  • Cathy Callaghan – Principal Policy Officer at ShelterNSW. The advocacy body aims to create a sustainable housing system that provides a secure home for all. As the peak body for housing, it advocates for reform to government policy that address housing insecurity in all its forms.

The Luminaries webinar series demonstrates the University of Wollongong's commitment to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

The expert panel examined the role of policy in addressing the housing crisis, focusing on initiatives to increase housing affordability and availability. Applying their unique expertise, the panellists examined the effectiveness of current policies and proposed new strategies while staying focused on the end goal of ensuring safe, affordable housing for all.

Watch the Luminaries webinar in full to discover expert insights on housing affordability. Here are five key snippets from the conversation.

Crisis communication

“We are here to talk about Australia's housing crisis and we call it a crisis because we are seeing these failures in our housing system that are fundamentally affecting the lives of future and current generations and affecting the potential of the social and economic future of Australia and its people.” – SENIOR PROFESSOR PAULINE MCGUIRK

Opening the discussion, Senior Professor Pauline McGuirk frames the severity of the housing crisis, highlighting its wide-reaching impacts. She emphasises the social and economic consequences and the multi-generational impacts if we are unable to meet Australia’s housing needs.

Housing the community

“In terms of very low-income households, what we say at Shelter is the private housing market has never provided secure housing to that cohort…At a minimum we would need five per cent of all housing stock in New South Wales to be public community housing…working towards 10 per cent within a decade.” – CATHY CALLAGHAN

Discussing the private vs. public or community housing markets, Cathy Callaghan highlights the inadequacy of the private housing market in delivering secure housing for very low-income households. Drawing on her role as Principal Policy Officer at ShelterNSW, Callaghan advocates for a significant increase in public community housing to create a safety net and alternative to the private market.

Later, in a powerful closing statement, Callaghan says, “If I were Prime Minister [Anthony] Albanese, who grew up in public housing, I would quadruple the commitment to building and creating new social housing right across the country. It's a winner, it's not new. It's a retro approach, but it works.”

Homeowner politics

“65 per cent of Australia's population are owner occupiers so they are buying their home either with a mortgage or they own a home outright and that whole block is, in an economic sense, notwithstanding potentially the different, personal perspectives in an economic sense has an incentive for the kind of speculation on property that the price is going up, the non-care for the rental sector, they have an incentive, an economic incentive to allow that to continue.”DR NICOLE COOK

Dr Nicole Cook draws attention to the political power of Australian homeowners as a voting bloc. With vested interests in financial incentives that drive soaring property prices, this group is likely to give electoral support to a candidate on economic or investment grounds. However, this focus on property value appreciation brings less attention and support for the rental market. Understanding this dynamic is crucial for recognising the broader impacts of housing policies and economic trends on different population segments.

Exterior photo of the back deck of a luxury Australian home 65 per cent of the Australian population are home owner occupiers. Photo: Unsplash

Heated discussion

“Those who live in older homes are disadvantaged because they have to spend more to keep them warm and in many cases, they don't spend enough to keep them warm because the investment in heating just goes out the window…New houses and apartments must reach seven stars and that's a game changer for new housing but it doesn't address the existing housing stock.” – PROFESSOR TIM MCCARTHY

As a prolific engineering educator and sustainable engineering expert, Professor Tim McCarthy highlights the energy inefficiency of older homes and the financial burden it places on their residents. Underlining the disparity between older and newer homes in terms of energy efficiency, he calls for policies to address this issue to improve living conditions and reduce energy costs.

Bursting the bubble

“The advice is for some people put bubble wrap on your windows to keep the frost out… Now these things are appalling, that they're happening in properties that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and landlords are having capital gains on them and so forth. So, I think there are ways of incentivising landlords so that they actually feel pride in what they provide in the product to their tenants. The built-to-rent market we've seen overseas does lead to much better outcomes because the owner has that long-term investment, and they want to make sure that their tenants remain rent-paying tenants for as long as possible.” – PROFESSOR TIM MCCARTHY

Professor McCarthy highlights the disparity in housing conditions, where tenants in high-value properties are advised makeshift solutions like bubble wrap for insulation. Despite landlords benefiting from capital gains, there is often a lack of investment in property quality. The built-to-rent model seen overseas offers a solution, incentivising landlords to maintain high standards and ensuring long-term tenant satisfaction and stability, as they seek to retain reliable, rent-paying tenants.


See the complete 2024 Luminaries line up and stream past webinars in full