The Morrison government’s $688 million home renovation scheme to boost construction amid the coronavirus has been called a “wasted opportunity”.
The government, which had dropped details about its signature HomeBuilder all week, finally released the nuts and bolts on Thursday – the temporary program will provide $25,000 grants to eligible home buyers and renovators.
New house and land packages worth up to $750,000 and renovations worth $150,000 or more will be eligible for the uncapped program. On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the scheme would save jobs and help Australians “keep the dream alive”.
It came after Master Builders Australia predicted a 40 per cent decline in residential construction, with 450,000 jobs on the line in the next six months because of coronavirus.
“We were facing the valley of death towards hundreds of thousands of job losses,” chief executive Denita Wawn said.
But the Australian Council of Social Service said giving home owners and renovators cash handouts represented a wasted opportunity to deal with the backlog of urgent social housing repairs and the shortfall in social housing stock.
“There is no argument that the construction sector needs a shot in the arm, but this money will not go where it is most needed,” CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
“It will largely benefit those on middle and higher incomes undertaking costly renovations, without any related social or environmental benefits.”
She said Master Builders, construction unions and community groups all agreed there was a need for a national social housing construction program of about 30,000 homes.
“There is also dire need for repairs and renovations of existing social housing dwellings that workers could get started on next week,” Dr Goldie said.
“We could create even more jobs by installing solar and improving energy efficiency in low-income homes, which would cut energy bills for people and families, who will otherwise freeze through winter.”
Labor has also urged the government to fund social and affordable housing projects.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said it was unlikely the program would spark a rush of people taking out loans or spending cash on major works.
“There aren’t too many battlers out there who have a lazy $150,000,” he said on Thursday.
“That’s a pretty decent renovation to your bathroom or to your kitchen.”
Mr Morrison said state governments were building social housing in partnership with the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation.
“The federal government doesn’t have to do every single part of the process,” he said.
Housing Minister Michael Sukkar claimed the Morrison government had done more for social housing than any other federal administration in Australia’s history.
The government anticipates the package will support 140,000 direct construction jobs and a million workers in the wider residential building sector.
Mr Albanese rubbished the job-creation claims, arguing the scheme was restrictive and poorly targeted.
The grants are open to people earning less than $125,00 a year or $200,000 per couple.
They can’t be used on investment properties or to build swimming pools, tennis courts, outdoor spas and saunas, sheds or garages.
Work has to be done by a licensed builder, meaning owner-builders and DIY renovators miss out.
The program is demand-driven, but the price tag suggests the government expects about 27,500 people to take up the offer.