The focus on housing in the 2017-18 federal budget is an important step to addressing the nation’s complex housing affordability challenge, according to the Housing Industry Association (HIA).

“The budget’s housing focus will send important signals to state and local governments and the community that the government is serious about [meeting] the challenge of delivering more affordable housing,” said Graham Wolfe, HIA’s chief executive of industry policy and media. 

While Wolfe acknowledged that there were no simple solutions to the issue, he said providing targeted assistance to first-home buyers and to providers of community housing via the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) would “make a difference.”

“Although not an affordability measure, the incentives for ‘downsizers’ will also help stimulate the supply of new housing more appropriate to the needs of our seniors,” Wolfe said. “Much of the work to improve housing affordability rests with state and local governments, and the budget has made significant commitments to encourage action. The National Housing Infrastructure Facility has $1billion behind it [and] is more than just window dressing.”

Wolfe further noted that linking the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement’s $1.8bn budget to the state and local governments’ attempts to deliver improved housing supply and better planning systems was a “significant and welcome reform.”

“The ‘city deals’ expansion into smaller scale projects is also a welcome development: the big-ticket projects are important but much can be achieved by removing obstacles to more efficient delivery of homes,” Wolfe said. “However, HIA is concerned about the negative impacts on residential building from the budget’s measures on foreign investment.”

Wolfe said that plans to tax homes that had been left empty by investors, limit the shares of foreign investment in new projects, and increase foreign investor duties all send the wrong signal to potential foreign investors. “Barriers to investment are not productive for the building industry or the economy more broadly … investment needs to be encouraged,” he said.