News ‘Hopeless’ housing program spends just 0.037% of $1 billion fund, despite rising homelessness fears

‘Hopeless’ housing program spends just 0.037% of $1 billion fund, despite rising homelessness fears

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The housing program hasn't paid out much yet Photo: Getty
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Labor has savaged the Coalition for a massive shortfall in delivery for a federal affordable housing program, which has paid out just $370,000 of a $1 billion funding pool.

That’s just 0.037 per cent, according to federal figures released late last year.

“They have failed to distribute these funds and vulnerable Australians are worse off because of it,” Labor’s shadow minister for housing, Jason Clare, told The New Daily.

The program in question is the National Housing Infrastructure Facility (NHIF), a $1 billion program offering concessional loans, grants and equity finance for infrastructure that supports the building of affordable housing. According to the agency which runs it, the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC), the program is to fund “critical housing-enabling infrastructure” such as electricity, gas and water works, phone services, or roads.

The fund was meant to help support construction of new housing. Photo: Getty

It’s not meant to help build housing itself, or community areas like libraries or parks, but to support other basics that go into constructing a new house, building or community.

The NHIF was introduced by then-treasurer, now Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the 2018 budget, as a housing affordability measure, to “overcome impediments to the provision of housing that are due to the lack of necessary infrastructure.”

But more than two years on, questions have been raised over the program’s success, with the NHFIC admitting late last year that only $370,000 had actually been delivered.

In response to questions on notice from Labor senator Alex Gallacher, the NHFIC said that as of October 27, 2020, just “$0.37 million for capacity building activities” had been delivered under the National Housing Infrastructure Facility.

The NHFIC also detailed that nearly $354 million had been applied for by applicants, and almost $183 million had been granted but not yet doled out, as of October 27.

The vast bulk of that money had come from the $600 million stream for concessional loans, with $290.64 million applied for, and $145.87 million allocated. Zero dollars have actually been delivered.

Of $175 million in grants available, just $63.18 million had been applied for, and only $36.85 million allocated. Just that $370,000 had been actually delivered, as of October 27.

Jason Clare said there was a critical need to get spending on affordable housing. Photo: AAP

Of $225 million in equity investment, not one dollar had been applied for, allocated, or delivered at the time.

“The Liberal Government has a habit of buck passing homelessness to the states. The NHIF is a Commonwealth fund. This is their responsibility,” Mr Clare told TND.

“This is yet another example of a Prime Minister that’s great at announcements but hopeless at delivering them.”

Mr Clare was critical of the lacklustre delivery of funds under the program, despite what he called an “urgent” need for public and affordable housing as coronavirus social supports begin to wind down.

A report from the University of NSW and Australian Council of Social Services, released Thursday, warned that tens of thousands of people potentially face massive rental debts, as landlords begin to call in payments deferred through the pandemic.

Despite eviction moratoriums and increased welfare payments through 2020, social agencies fear the end of such supports will lead to a massive spike in homelessness or housing stress.

The New Daily contacted assistant treasurer and Housing Minister Michael Sukkar for comment, but his office did not respond to emails or phone calls.

An August article in the Australian Financial Review reported that the government was looking at “repurposing” the NHIF to “get the money out the door”, noting that the vast bulk of the fund had not been allocated.

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Housing minister Michael Sukkar’s office did not respond to questions. Photo: AAP

In a written statement, a spokesperson for the NHFIC defended the rollout of the program, saying more money had been allocated and would soon be delivered. They highlighted an August 2020 commitment of $100 million to NSW, which could help build 781 new homes.

“We have been working with the states, local government and community housing providers to identify housing infrastructure projects, and in August 2020, NHFIC and NSW Land and Housing Corporation finalised an agreement for $100 million in loans and grants to be provided through the NHIF to fund critical infrastructure,” the spokesperson said.

The New Daily asked a series of detailed questions about the latest delivery of NHIF funds, to determine whether more had been allocated since the October 27 answers. Those questions were not answered and the NHFIC did not provide updated spending figures.

However, the NHFIC spokesperson pointed out that not all of the full $1 billion was actually available for allocation just yet.

“While the NHIF is a $1 billion overall facility, just over half of that ($517 million) was appropriated by 27 October 2020, so the loans approved of $182.72 million should be seen in that context,” they said.

“These loans will support the delivery of more than 3,100 new homes by providing infrastructure projects that would not otherwise have gone ahead, or started at a much later date.”

The NHFIC spokesperson said it had a target of committing between $100 and $300 million in loans and grants for the 2020-21 financial year, “which the Corporation is working hard to achieve.”

The federal government launched a review of the NHFIC in December, as mandated under the 2018 act that created the agency.

As part of the independent statutory review, the government is inviting submissions on the NHIF, including whether it is “providing a use complement” to existing state and federal housing initiatives, and whether the scope of projects eligible for funding is “effective”.