Anyone who is blocking homes needs to get out of the way” YP Gold Coast interviews Housing Minister

The Australian housing crisis; it’s the issue on the mind of all of Australia’s youth at the moment, and rightfully so. To top it all off, the Gold Coast has been deemed “Ground Zero” for the housing crisis, according to the Urban Developer.

Many people claim to know the reason behind the housing crisis with most saying it is due to a lack of supply during high demand. While this is correct to some degree, the truth is that there are several compounding issues that have led to the housing crisis. These include a high cost of building materials, overabundance of short-term accommodation (Airbnb), a slow development application process, lack of developable land and a high rate of interstate migration during COVID, to name a few.

An interesting issue that exacerbates the crisis even further is the high number of available investment dwellings that sit vacant.

These compounded issues mean that there is no single answer to the housing crisis. We need to solve each of these issues to create the housing necessary for the ever-expanding QLD population.

As an organisation, the YP is committed to understanding these issues and the mechanisms required to solve them. On Tuesday, we sat down with Meaghan Scanlon MP, the Queensland Minister for Housing, to discuss the existing issues and how the State is aiming to solve them.

Interview Transcript:

  • Matthew Dodds – President, YP Gold Coast:
    Meaghan, you’ve had a very impressive career in politics so far. At age 24 and, if I have got my facts straight, you successfully ran for the seat of Gavin which made you the youngest female to be elected to Queensland Parliament. Fast forward to today and you’ve held some pretty significant portfolios, including Minister of Environment and Great Barrier Reef, Minister of Science and most recently the Minister for Housing.

    Can you just tell us a little bit about your drive to be involved in politics and why you are so passionate about the portfolios you’ve held?

  • Meaghan Scanlon MP – Minister for Housing:
    I got interested in politics, like a lot of people, because I wanted to change the world, and I have obviously over time realized that is harder and takes more time than you originally might think. But there are a whole lot of motivating reasons why I got involved. My brother has a disability. Both of my parents have got different backgrounds. They both grew up in public housing. So, you know, I’ve seen the sort of social reform and investment can have an impact on people’s lives. I think I felt frustrated with the political process and that young people’s voices weren’t being heard and the things that mattered to young people weren’t necessarily being prioritized. So, I think those are the reasons that motivated me to get involved to begin with. But obviously, I have learned a lot of things over the time I have been in and got to meet a lot of interesting people.

  • Matthew Dodds:
    Recently you’ve taken on the Minister for Housing Portfolio, can you tell us a little bit about what the role entails?

  • Meaghan Scanlon MP:
    So, the premier has got a view, that I agree with, which is that housing is obviously a major challenge at the moment and so we needed a fresh set of eyes and a single focus on that one policy area. So essentially, my responsibility is to continue the work of managing our social and affordable housing stock, which is quite substantial across the state. On top of that, we have got nearly $4 billion worth of investment going into social and affordable housing. So, making sure we roll that out as quickly as possible. The areas that we need it and in the forms that we need. As part of this the housing investment fund that once sat with Treasury has been pulled into the Department of Housing. I have also now got sort of a special focus on affordability as well. So that means that I’ll be doing a lot of work with the planning minister and our Deputy Premier, around not just social housing, but also how do we work with councils and the private sector to unlock more supply while also ensuring that a proportion of that is genuinely affordable, and also working with the Commonwealth Government to get some consistency around that as well. So that is kind of the main focus, which makes it sound easier than it is. There are obviously a lot of challenges at the moment and it crosses over into a lot of other portfolios. I should have mentioned as well, but we are also responsible for the homelessness response as well. That means partnering with a whole lot of NGOs across the state in that homelessness outreach, but also then looking at the reasons that people are homeless, and that can be for a variety of reasons. So, our response involves partnering with mental health services and with alcohol or drug addiction services, to make sure we have a full wrap around response when people might be sleeping rough. Sometimes it is not just that people don’t have enough money to live, it is far more complex than that.

  • Matthew Dodds:
    Sounds like quite a heavy portfolio to have and one that is certainly the focus of the media and young professionals as well at the moment.

    YP Gold Coast aims to represent the young professionals demographic locally, most of this demographic are renters or looking to break into the property market for the first time. As you mentioned, there are issues surrounding the affordability crisis and shortage of stock here on the Gold Coast. So, what’s caused the conditions that we are currently grappling with?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    I think a whole range of things. We have seen massive interstate migration, particularly post-COVID. Well beyond the sort of estimates that the government had projected. You’ve also got a whole range of complexities at the moment with not having enough staff and construction workers to do our big build projects, we have supply chain issues, and all of this doesn’t help in rolling out the stock that you need to quickly. I think also that people are just feeling the impacts inflation is having on cost of living. As a result, we are seeing people who may never have needed government assistance before, are now turning to us for support. All of that kind of happened at once. I do also think that probably all levels of government need to be more focused on unlocking supply and I think it’s fair to say that there’s been some delays particularly on the Gold Coast, getting that sort of planning process through and making sure that we make the situation better and not worse.

    So that is what has caused a lot of the challenges, and for some of these causes there are no simple solutions to but for others, I think there are things we could be doing.

  • Matthew Dodds:
    So, what are some of the ways you are moving to tackle these issues?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    Well, we have had a record investment in social and affordable housing. We are out here trying to get as many homes up off the ground as quickly as possible. We are looking at other options such as purchasing tiny homes, in areas where we need to move homes quickly. We’ve also established our QBuild accommodation and rapid accommodation manufacturing facility where we have workers basically making prefab homes that are being transported across the state, particularly to remote and regional communities. In these areas it is sometimes hard to attract workers quickly to do the sort of builds that we need and they also aren’t exposed to the weather elements so they can get through that construction more quickly. Those are sort of some of the more innovative things that we are looking at.

    We’re also providing tax concessions around build-to-rent initiatives. We’ve relaxed a whole lot of laws around secondary dwellings so that people can have granny flats. We’ve also relaxed some laws to allow social and affordable housing to be built more quickly without having to go through some of the hoops that you need to.

    We are also trying to work with the private sector as well as community housing providers on ensuring that when you are building you have a proportion of social and affordable and private, we think that that is generally a good model.

    I think there is still validity in having specific areas where it is mostly social where you can provide those wraparound supports, but in other cases it is perfectly reasonable and a good model to have a mixture of the types of homes in in those settings.

    We also did a big land audit to see what parcels of parcels of land we have available where we could unlock more supply. So, we have identified already a number of those, some of which I think four of which are on the Gold Coast. There are other councils that have also done a similar process.

    There have been some faith-based organizations who have done the same, so we’ll now work with them on how to maximize those parcels of land the most effectively.

  • Jacqueline Bojanowski – Vice President, YP Gold Coast:
    Meaghan, I had a quick follow-up question on the subject of unlocking more opportunities for community housing.

    When you’re trying to engage private developers in this process, something you will be aware that they consider is the location above all else. The cost of building in various areas remains the same, but they can sell the same unit in Robina for $600K, which would go for $1.2 Million in Main Beach, which is obviously a much better return for them as a private entity.

    How can we incentivize builders to produce units particularly in the affordable housing market and in the locations in which it is required most?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    A lot of this comes down to the council and their city plan, working with the development industry around how do you maximize stock but also how do you make sure there is a proportion of affordability and there’s ways that you can do that. We are providing tax concessions that help incentivise that. You’ll have places I think you also need to look at to like, you want people to have access to good public transport and services, and if you have that then that might allow councils to relax some other sorts of measures around the requirements around car parks, which then can minimize some costs as well.

    So, it is often more complex than it sort of appears straightaway. That is where you know the responsibility of councils is supposed to be in that we say to them “Here’s how many houses we need you to find.” And they are generally the best place to tell determine within their community how to do that, and whether that is high, medium, low density, or some different mixtures, as well as the different sorts of criteria you add to that. So that is where we have accepted some of the council’s plans to date because we think that they are fine. There are other bits that we have some concerns about because we think we’re not convinced yet that it won’t have a negative impact, particularly on affordability when you when you look at the some of the criteria that have been applied.

  • Jacqueline Bojanowski:
    It is very interesting and complex no doubt in the way you approach this, because as soon as money is involved it tends to sway people in different ways.

  • Meaghan Scanlon
    In all honesty, this is also one of the reasons why, and people have different views on this, but it is why we brought in developer donation bans. Because you shouldn’t be swayed in your decision making and you should be just making a decision in the best public interest of the community that you represent. Which is to unlock supply and to make sure that it is affordable as well.

  • Joshua Daley – Town Planner, YP Gold Coast
    Hi, Meaghan. People have been talking about proposing a vacancy tax to target investors who own homes, but just leave them sitting unrented. I think the Jewel in Surfers Paradise is a good example of that. I think there are a large number dwellings in there that are just vacant and haven’t been used for the last two years. Do you think it is a tangible idea to have this kind of vacancy tax and is it possibly something you would consider in the future?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    Look, it is not something that Queensland Government is considering. Our views on these sorts of treasury arrangements are clear, and we have been quite clear to the industry that the measures we took to the election are the measures we took, and that we generally we try and be clear and upfront at each election around what our proposals are.

    It is not to say though, that council can’t look at it. I know the mayor has indicated his interest in that so it will be interesting to see what they do with that.

  • Josh Daley:
    One of the other key proposals being talked about is a potential rent cap. I know there was a pretty poignant article about it this morning in the bulletin. This will probably ease some tensions for quite a number of households who are under rent stress. But it potentially would discourage development in the region, which is part of that longer-term solution. Is a Rent Cap still being considered as a potential to assist in the housing crisis and what’s your view on that in the long term?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    So, our position has been that we have brought in that annual requirement that you can’t increase a rental more than once a year, and I have got a meeting on Wednesday with some of the other stakeholders just around the application of that and some of the things we have been hearing about. I think we have got to be careful with anything we do to make sure that there are no adverse impacts. We do desperately need supply, but I do acknowledge that there are people who are doing it tough. So, we’ll keep looking at different measures that we can implement to try and make it easier such as we provide rental grants and bond loans, things that actually help people maintain their tenancy right now, while we unlock more supply.

    We have also flagged at one of the last housing minister’s meetings, which I don’t think were happening for some time, the former government just wasn’t convening them. So, we think that we need to have those more easily because there is obviously quite a bit of pressure on the housing system at the moment.

    I think ideally it would be good to have some sort of harmonization of some of our rental protections across the country, so that you don’t see sort of people moving to different places because it’s more advantageous.

    So I think where possible harmonization is ideal for industry and for communities. But we are obviously continuing to look at measures that we can bring into effect but at the moment our view is like that the annual increase measure hasn’t even come into effect yet. So, we just want to see how that filters through.

  • Josh Daley:
    The housing crisis is tied in many ways to the building industry. Building costs have been materially increasing and increasing. I know during COVID I think it was increases as high as 300% and they are still pretty high and I don’t think they look like going down quickly in the short term.

    I think the fact that we have also got these major projects coming such as the Olympics, for example, which will require upgrading a lot of stadiums. That is obviously going to draw a lot of construction resources out of the system.

    On the other side approving housing is actually a lot easier than actually building it. I know, as a town planner, 50% of approvals that we get actually done never end up being built. A lot of that is due to rising costs of these building materials. What actions are the state looking at to try and make the actual construction of housing cheaper?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    I think we are really mindful of the constraints on the industry and we are making sure that where we are spending money, it is where we need the outcomes. I think there is an opportunity though. A lot of the infrastructure is already there which was part of that part of the reason we did bid for it because we felt as though we could utilize existing assets and then just enhance some of the assets that are coming to a period of their life where they do need some upgrades done to them anyway.

    I do think that the Olympics is an opportunity to around the GABA redevelopment with the cross rail crossing a rail station being there, from an urban development standpoint there are actually housing opportunities that come from some of these projects as well. So, to actually unlock some of that and to do that effectively and ensure that a proportion of it is ideally social and affordable, as an outcome of the Olympics is something I’m really keen to work on with the deputy.

    Then more broadly across government, we are very cognizant of the pressures on the construction industry and not overheating that at the expense of delivering the sort of things that we know are essential. So, when you’re looking at the sort of builds were delivering, they are generally things like hospitals or schools, TAFEs, housing and things that we need, not just projects that are nice to haves. So that’s kind of our priority at the moment.

    I think also I have heard from some other organizations around some of the previous federal government stimulus measures, which I think have added to some of the issues that the construction industry is facing that provided work for them, and that it has over heated the market, which is a challenge for us to now build social and affordable housing and arguably, some of those stimulus measures didn’t deliver a social good.

  • Josh Daley:
    I would agree that focusing on social and affordable housing is the priority. We do a lot of the work in Broadbeach and Surfers, and the product that you get there are these high-rise apartments that are quite expensive, and that obviously doesn’t really help a lot with the housing crisis.

    What I think assisted during the actual pandemic was the planning Minister extended approvals, and he gave automatic extensions for approvals because when you get your MCU for your new apartment building, it is only valid for six years and that seems like a long time but you know, in the grand scheme of things that can lapse, and then the approval that we had is now gone. The planning Minister during COVID gave everybody a two year extension and it really assisted in actually being able to deliver those projects. So, something that might be a good idea. Going into this construction cost issue was perhaps allowing a longer timeframe to actually build the developments.

  • Matthew Dodds:
    As a quick follow-up question on the topic of government-based infrastructure projects. The Federal government’s announced quite a serious review into many of the major projects in the pipeline, how closely is the state government working with the federal government to make sure that priorities are aligned? What does that mean for some of the large projects that are planned for the Gold Coast?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    Obviously, the key ministers who have those partnership arrangements with the Commonwealth, they are working very closely with them to ensure that the priorities for us are continued. I have made it very clear to the people that I know in the federal government that projects like the second M1, light rail, stage three, and all of the things that you know, are our focus, that they continue and I feel a level of confidence that they understand how important those projects are, in particularly to a growing city. We are obviously in close conversations to ensure that they understand the priority of those projects.

  • Josh Daley:
    Meaghan, we found that the housing rental crisis is not just affecting young professionals, but also homelessness. Homelessness now in Queensland is estimated to have increased to 22% in the four years up to 2022. This is a pretty concerning rate when compared to the national average of 8%. How is the state going to approach this issue of homelessness going into the future?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    So, we currently provide partnership funding arrangements with a number of non-government organizations across the state. I have been out with a few of them recently to see the sort of outreach programs they provide. So, we are sort of doing that in a lot of places to provide that assistance to where people are.

    They then have different funding available to provide emergency relief accommodation, and then we try and partner with them in that at that individual level to try and find them sort of medium to long term supports. There have been some really great success stories on the Gold Coast of people who have actually been experiencing homelessness for some period of time and had quite a high level of complexity. Because they were able to sort of have that outreach response and then all of those other wraparound supports they have been able to find people permanent accommodation, and they haven’t then had to go back into homelessness.

    The other thing we are really trying to do is to get people to reach out earlier so that we can maintain their status of being in a private tenancy because that is better for them, and it is actually more cost-effective and efficient. So, if we can, we are trying to get the information out there more readily available so that people understand that there are rental grants and bond loans that they can access so that they don’t end up in crisis and become homeless.

    So, there is a lot of work happening. I think, all I’m keen to do is to make sure that that’s all been rolled out as effectively as it can be when you are working with multiple NGOs that can be challenging because there has been lots of different people doing lots of different things and streamlining some of those processes is challenging. We are throwing everything we can at the problem and I’m keen to see if there are any other ways that we can just make sure that that anyone who needs that immediate support is getting it.

  • Matthew Dodds:
    Thanks Meaghan. Obviously, we have got the state budget coming out next week and I think and we are looking forward to hearing some of the detail around that from Cameron and yourself at our next event on the 30th of June! I guess in advance, how heavily can we expect to see the housing crisis feature in this budget?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    I think you can expect housing, health and cost of living to be some of the main features of the budget. I think the treasurer said recently you can expect to see “cost of living, cost of living and cost of living” addressed in a budget. We get that it is a pressure at the moment. So, there’ll be a whole range of measures in there, we have also previously indicated that there’ll be something around energy relief. We are in a unique position in Queensland where we actually own our power-generating assets so any of the money that those generators make goes back to Queenslanders who are effectively shareholders. And I think that will be key.

    Obviously, the added bonus of us owning those assets is we can also transition them to clean energy in a timely and orderly way. So, you can expect to continue to see investment in renewable energy in that space as well.

  • Joshua Lumley – Treasurer, YP Gold Coast:
    I was just going to ask Meaghan you know, obviously we do have this event coming up for you and Cameron to talk about the state budget with our younger demographic. One thing we notice is there is probably a lot less optimism out there in terms of trying to get a first home and save. To help with this everyone wants real wage growth but that adds further to the point of inflation. Is there something you think in this upcoming budget that might provide a little bit more optimism to the younger demographic of Queenslanders?

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    Look, I think there are whole lot of things in the budget that hopefully will provide optimism to people. It is a really challenging time and Governments have to sort of focus on the areas where there is the most need at the moment, but I’m hopeful that people sort of look at this, the measures of the budget that will sort of transform our economy, things like the energy and jobs plan that will, particularly for regional communities, mean that we will transition away from fossil fuel powered system to a clean energy system and unlock all the sort of critical minerals opportunities we have in the state and actually unlock more job opportunities. So there’ll be some really good things happening and I think the people should have a sense of optimism, but I do acknowledge it is really tough right now for a lot of people and I try to address that immediate pinch people are feeling while we can set the state up going forward.

  • Josh Daley:
    Final question Meaghan, recently the state advised that the area of urban footprint, which is the development area in Queensland, was not as much as they had previously anticipated. The Gold Coast doesn’t really have a lot of land left to develop other than a few pockets here and there that can be redeveloped, but they face their own challenges from flooding and so on.

    Do you think that it is probably more important because of that to increase the density of areas rather than trying to push out?
    Do you think that it is worth looking into the southern beaches, perhaps, and out west a bit further and making that a bit denser? It doesn’t need to necessarily be as dense as Surfers or Broadbeach, but making those areas denser for apartments and townhouses to help with supply issues.

  • Meaghan Scanlon:
    I definitely think we need to look at going up and not just out. We have got over $200 million in support to put in place all of this sort of infrastructure, the things that people think are boring but are important to open up some areas. But you know, the reality is, there is a whole lot of people moving here, we need houses and we do need to go up in some areas. I think we have a responsibility and the council has a responsibility to show that that can still be done well in a way where you still have access to open green spaces, access to public transport, and nice amenities. But we desperately need homes and so anyone who is blocking those homes needs to get out of the way because they are doing that at the expense of young people that you had to live in their city and vulnerable people being able to have a home.

Interested in hearing more? On 30th of June you can join the YP Team with Queensland Treasurer, Hon Cameron Dick and Meaghan Scanlon MP for our State Budget Night event. Tickets are selling fast so get yours today!

Author: Matthew Dodds