Housing crisis: don't blame migrants for the mess

Migrant communities should not be scapegoated for Australia's housing affordability crisis, homelessness organisations and community service groups say.

In an open letter, 40 organisations have called on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton to show leadership "following the rise in disturbing rhetoric linking Australia’s migration levels to the current housing crisis".

"We are deeply concerned that migrant communities are being scapegoated as the primary reason for this crisis," the letter read.

Signed by Anglicare Australia, Australian Council of Social Service, National Shelter, the Community Housing Industry Association and several other groups, they argue the housing crisis had been decades in the making and started long before the post-pandemic migration boost.

"Poor policy choices by successive governments have pushed up the cost of housing to unsustainable levels," the letter said. 

"Overwhelming evidence tells us the chronic undersupply of social housing and inflationary impacts of investor tax incentives are fuelling the current crisis."

Overseas net migration peaked during the last financial year as 500,000 people arrived in Australia, hundreds of thousands more than past years.

This was largely caused by the return of migration after borders snapped shut during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Associate Professor Ben Phillips from the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods said immigration had not been the main cause of housing unaffordability and increases in rents.

He said while there had been a recent surge in migration, issues with housing affordability had been present for years.

"There has been a lot of immigration since 2000, but I wouldn't point the finger at immigration being one of the main causes of rental price changes," he said.

"We have had a sharp turn around from migration and it has certainly impacted the rental market somewhat and led to shortages, but it's a short-term issue and doesn't mean we need to change policy."

Prof Phillips said the country's housing market had accommodated the country's migration intake.

A migration strategy released by the federal government last week aims to return migration to pre-pandemic numbers by the next financial year.

New measures include tougher rules for temporary visa holders and better pathways for skilled migration to address shortages in high-paying and in-demand industries. 

The open letter to the PM noted that rents rose more between March 2020 - when borders closed - and February 2022 - when borders fully reopened - than the entire decade prior. 

"House prices also surged by at least 25 per cent within the same period," the letter read. 

It comes as a new national housing supply and affordability council will get under way later in December.

The independent council will play an advisory role for housing reform, with the statutory body formally starting work on December 27, with the first meeting to take place in early 2024.

Housing Minister Julie Collins said the body would help to improve housing affordability.

"We want to ensure that our approaches to increasing the supply of all housing, more homes to buy and more homes to rent, are informed by advice from some of Australia's leading housing experts."

Prof Phillips said the body should examine the longer term picture.

"Do we want to increase supply, or do we want to have a better supply?" he said.

"The problem is more about the quality of supply and are we supplying dwellings that are close to public transport and where people want to live."

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