Michael Janda, a senior digital business reporter at ABC, has singled out non-productive real-estate speculation as Australia’s “national addiction.”
As addicts tend to come up with all kinds of weird excuses to justify their behaviour, Janda argues that it’s no surprise policy-makers and politicians are coming up with wacky explanations to assuage the public’s fears about housing affordability.
Case in point: last week, Luci Ellis, assistant governor (economic) at the Reserve Bank of Australia, offered a number of reasons why Australians shouldn’t be too concerned about the nation’s insane house prices and high levels of household debt.
The house prices rise faster than the incomes.
Ellis argued The Australian house prices are comparable to those in other countries.
Janda countered by saying this comparison should worry rather than comfort, as many of the countries we’re being compared to (such as New Zealand and Canada) are widely argued to have housing bubbles of their own.
Australia’s price-to-income ratio is around the level of Spain’s when it experienced a property market crash, according to a graph produced by Ellis. Additionally, “the fact that we are a little short of Ireland’s pre-crash peak surely shouldn’t offer too much comfort,” Janda said.
Higher income households are more likely have greater debts
Ellis further argued that Aussies have nothing to fear because the nation’s bigger debts are held by higher-income households. “Most of the mortgage debt in Australia has been borrowed by those most able to service it,” she said.
While the argument might seem intuitive, it’s important to remember that mortgage stress is more common in households with higher incomes due to higher living costs and overall debt. In the event that one or both breadwinners of a household with a high income and dual-income household lose their job, defaults can occur.
Janda said that older households may have paid more on their mortgages, which would be okay. However, this is not true for younger property buyers who are less financially well off.
“That’s not to mention the inequality that Dr Ellis skirts over, trumpeting the fact that most investment property debt is held by higher income households, without joining the dots that this is making lower income families the rental serfs of a landed class,” Janda .
We need to get rid of real property
Janda believes the answer to Australia’s unsustainable house prices and household debt is to wean off real estate speculation.
“Instead of finding new and ever more creative ways of boosting demand and further stretching Australians’ already tortured ability to pay for over-priced homes, how about we look at some ways to start kicking our housing habit?” he said.
Two possible solutions are a national land tax or negative gearing reform.
“After all, increasing tobacco taxes has helped Australia in the battle against smoking, so why not raise property taxes in the fight against non-productive land speculation?”