New research led by UNSW's City Futures Research Centre has found that alongside the growing shortage of affordable housing, Australia's largest non-government affordable housing providers have substantial under-used capacity.

Making more effective use of this resource calls for concerted and purposeful action from both levels of government to support the industry in playing a fully effective part in the expansion of affordable housing supply recently pledged by Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison.

The research, Developing the scale and capacity of Australia’s affordable housing industry, was commissioned by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).

It highlights the role of affordable housing providers as players within a wider system. Importantly, this system extends beyond the organisations directly responsible for providing secure low-cost housing (mainly not-for-profit community housing providers) to include supporting entities and institutions such as service delivery partners, lenders, peak bodies and government policy-makers, program managers and regulators.

The research identifies industry capacity challenges in four main areas:

  1. the lack of a resourced plan for tackling the national affordable housing shortage
  2. a major loss of housing policy-maker expertise over the past 10–20 years and, over the past five years, a neglected and underperforming affordable housing regulatory system
  3. stronger and more enduring leadership is needed from both governments and housing providers
  4. support for the Indigenous housing sector has lagged behind that for mainstream providers.

Key recommendations include revitalisation of the affordable housing regulatory system; official recognition of affordable housing as a long-term national policy goal (through the Council of Australian Governments), and the creation of a joint government-industry Affordable Housing Industry Council to direct and oversee industry development.

The report also stresses the importance of Indigenous-controlled and culturally appropriate service models in better meeting the housing needs of Indigenous communities.

"We believe there is a case for national legislation that defines affordable housing and sets out the economic and social purpose of the industry," says inquiry leader Professor Hal Pawson,  Associate Director of UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre.

"Australia’s leading affordable housing providers are, in our judgement, ready for further growth. With the right leadership, resourcing and regulatory accountability, they have what it takes to help this country tackle what has become a key problem governments can no longer ignore."

The final report is available to download here.