The range of choices available to local government to influence local housing outcomes means that it is not possible to make generalised and universal statements about the role of local government in housing. The balance of explicit housing activities that local councils embark on depend on a range of factors, including the statutory responsibilities given to them by state/territory governments, their own initiative to meet particular needs in their local communities, in response to requests or suggestions from their communities or the private sector, as well as the policies and programs of other spheres of government. The availability of funding from other sources is often a key ingredient to encouraging councils to be providers of housing in their local area or to be innovative facilitators of housing provision in their area by other stakeholders.
In the mid 1990's, ALGA's National Local Government Housing Policy advocated the development of local housing strategies as a way of encouraging more active local government involvement in shaping housing outcomes at the local level. The preparation of local housing strategies was advocated because at that time most councils did not have explicit housing policies or were often not aware of the housing related impacts of their planning, policies and regulatory activities. Over the past decade, many local governments across Australia have prepared local housing strategies, in some cases as a result of direct State intervention through planning legislation. Local housing strategies prepared by local councils generally include an analysis of local housing need, market characteristics and proposals for planning or policy intervention.
The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has completed a comprehensive assessment of the value of local housing strategies prepared by local governments in Australia in three States. The report, Housing policy and sustainable urban development: evaluating the use of local housing strategies in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, includes an evaluation of the extent to which the strategies have been implemented in practice or led to changed housing outcomes on the ground.
Affordable housing refers to housing for low and moderate income households seeking home ownership and rental housing opportunities at a cost which generally does not exceed 30% of their income.
Local governments have both direct and indirect impacts on the provision of affordable housing. Direct involvement refers to the actual provision of housing by local governments acting individually or in partnership with others. Indirect involvement refers to the role that local governments play in facilitating the provision of housing by others.
Against the backdrop of rising house prices since the mid-1990s there has been significant public debate around issues associated with housing affordability. In 2003 the Australian Government requested that the Productivity Commission undertake an inquiry into First Home Ownership. ALGA's submission to the Inquiry clearly articulates local government's role in housing and its impact on residential building and development. The Commission's report (PDF) was published in March 2004.
At its meeting on 13 February 2004 Local Government and Planning Ministers met with members of the Housing Ministers' Conference. At this meeting it was agreed that housing affordability is a major national issue. Ministers agreed that local government and planning portfolios are important stakeholders and partners in the development of affordable housing policies at Australian Government, State and Territory, and local government levels, and in the implementation of affordable housing projects. Alignment of strategic and policy development processes between the local government, planning and housing portfolios would produce greater outcomes than action by individual portfolios. To this end Local Government and Planning Ministers agreed to again meet with Housing Ministers following the completion of the National Affordable Housing Project and the completion of the final report of the Productivity Commission. Local Government and Planning Ministers and Housing Ministers will meet to further consider these issues in August 2005.
ALGA is a member of the Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council (LGPMC) and is an observer member of the Housing Ministers' Conference.