BCEC launches Housing Affordability in WA: A tale of two tenures report

Published28 June 2021

The Housing Affordability in WA: A tale of two tenures report launch was held on Thursday 24 June 2021,at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Future leaders and economists were at the event including students from St Andrew’s Grammar and Economics and Property students from Curtin University.

Gareth Parker, Journalist, Broadcaster and Commentator, hosted the event, highlighting the relevance of housing affordability as a research subject, noting it was the ‘topic of the moment’.

Whadjuk Nyungar Elders Vivienne and Morton Hansen provided a moving Welcome to Country, followed by the Kwarbak Djookian all-female Nyungar dance group delivering five short Nyungar dances.

Sinead Taylor, Bankwest
Sinead Taylor, Bankwest.

Sinead Taylor, Bankwest Executive General Manager, opened the proceedings.

“Whilst the [housing] industry is clearly experiencing significant growth, it is important to acknowledge that there are currently many West Australians who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads,” Ms Taylor said.

Professor Alan Duncan, Director, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, and Dr Amity James, Deputy Director Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) – Curtin Research Centre delivered the report findings, detailing the changes in housing affordability in WA in recent years including the challenges in rental affordability, how COVID has changed what people want in housing, and housing policy recommendations for WA.

Professor Duncan discussed how affordability pressures for renters have ramped up considerable over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alan Duncan presenting at a lectern on stage
Professor Alan Duncan, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

“Rental vacancies in Perth at an all-time low, dropping below 1 per cent for the first time,” Professor Duncan said. “Weekly median rents increased by $20 in each of the three quarters from September 2020 to March 2021.”

Dr James spoke to the importance of housing policy, noting that “we need to rethink our current policy settings around tax, housing subsidies and housing supply, with the end goal of delivering affordable housing to households across the income spectrum”.

Report recommendations include increased investment in social housing, financial support for private renters, increased financial support for organisations delivering affordability housing and reforms to Commonwealth Rent Assistance.

Gareth Parker facilitated the Q&A session with an expert panel including Mike Rowe, Director General, Department of Communities; Michelle Mackenzie, Chief Executive Officer, Shelter WA; Cath Hart, Executive Director WA, Housing Industry Association; Professor Steven Rowley, Director, AHURI – Curtin Research Centre; and Professor Alan Duncan.

Speaking of the long waiting lists for social housing, Michelle Mackenzie had a number of recommendations for reform.

“We need to have a variety of products,” Ms McKenzie said. “Some people want to buy, some people might want to rent for life, and some people will always need social housing, and it is just appalling that we have that safety net broken and 17,000 people waiting for social home, living in private rentals that they can’t afford, living in a tent or living in their car.”

Cath Hart and Steven Rowley on the Housing Affordability panel
Cath Hart, HIA, and Professor Steven Rowley, AHURI – Curtin Research Centre.

Cath Hart spoke to the need for ‘mum and dad’ investors with investment properties to continue supply of housing stock in the rental market.

“If we have policy settings where we discourage investment, where people have accumulated some wealth and want to put that back into the housing market, we will perversely have less stock for the people whose first order need around shelter isn’t being adequately met.”

Report co-author Professor Steven Rowley outlined the current priorities when choosing a house as surfaced through the 2021 Housing Affordability Survey.

“The survey showed that the biggest driver of housing choices is affordability first and location second,” Professor Rowley said. “The other dwelling specific features were quite a long way down that decision-making criteria.”

Mike Rowe, the newly appointed Director General of the Department of Communities, addressed the need to balance the demand for housing construction over time, for the long-term benefit of the housing industry in WA.

“We are in this stage where we’ll see a bit of a peak of construction, where all the government stimulus will wash through,” Mr Rowe said. “The government will be interested in making sure that there’s a smooth pipeline of investment. So that all of a sudden, all of our well-equipped tradies and others actually have something to get on with.”

Watch the BCEC Housing Affordability in WA: A tale of two tenures report launch