Investment in social infrastructure delivers both tangible and intangible benefits such as improvements to health, education and shelter.
There are bi-directional benefits to housing and health, with:
- the provision of effective shelter improving quality of life;
- improving housing quality standards reducing reliance on health services through reduced doctor and hospital referrals, resulting in a health dividend; and
- increased household formation – when young people can leave the family home, this results in savings to the health system.
On the flip side, loss of shelter is the primary cause of mental health issues among the homeless, resulting in increased government expenditure across health, justice and other welfare systems.
Is this why the Scottish Government are building 50,000 affordable homes before 2021?
Do we need to build more social and affordable housing?
An Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) report in 2017 estimated 1.3 million households were in a state of housing need, whether unable to access market housing or in rental stress, with this figure estimated to rise to 1.7 million by 2025.
More recent research estimates that 730,000 new social housing dwellings will be required over the next 20 years to address the current deficit and future need.
While Labour have pledged to build 250,000 affordable homes over 10 years, one can only imagine the productivity benefits and health dividend to be derived from having over a million households lifted out of rental stress and afforded the opportunity to focus on more entrepreneurial endeavours.
How do we rectify the current imbalance?
Sustainable and inclusive social infrastructure asset growth requires assistance from both government and the private sector.
To deliver the high volumes needed to close the current housing gap, Australia need only look overseas to leverage new ways to deliver social infrastructure assets. The Scottish Futures Trust HubCo model, for example, enables the development of co-located social infrastructure facilities, made up of area partnerships between councils, health authorities and the private sector. These partnerships agree on a long-term strategic development plan, enabling the construction of targeted developments to cater for localised need. The Scottish Government is leveraging the HubCo model to deliver its 50,000 affordable homes target.
At a recent forum, we were fortunate to have Martine Letts, Committee for Melbourne CEO, who advised that the Committee for Melbourne has identified “Housing Mix” as a Strategic Need which will guide the Committee’s future agenda with a series of tangible policy initiatives. This has been identified as a priority due to the high cost of living – of which housing costs are a major determinant – which has a detrimental effect on a city’s creativity and innovative capacity. Expensive cities make self-employment and entrepreneurship more difficult. In addition, without affordable housing, emergency and public service workers will be unable to live near their place of work.
The Committee for Melbourne’s Housing Mix Taskforce project scope has been agreed and the Taskforce will now map out how to achieve affordable housing outcomes for Greater Melbourne.