With the end of the mining boom, the main sector propping up the Australian economy is property. It is becoming more likely however that the property market will also suffer a downturn.
A bursting, or even a deflation, of the property bubble would have disastrous consequences for working class people. While many people are already suffering from mortgage stress, a collapse of property prices could lead to thousands having to default on their loans.
For those who rent the situation is not much better. Many pay 50% (or more) of their incomes to their landlords. Others worry that they will be forced to move at short notice. There is no doubt that Australia is in the midst of a housing crisis and things are likely to get worse before they get better.
This crisis has come about because the capitalist system insists that housing is offered on a for-profit basis. Housing is not seen as a right or a basic human need.
A collapse of the property bubble would impact on mortgage holders but it would also have devastating consequences for those employed in the construction sector. Some commentators estimate that up to 200,000 jobs could be at risk. This would have huge impacts on the wider economy.
To prevent this devastation from occurring a movement needs to be built – we need to campaign for housing to be basic right, and not a luxury. A movement around housing should fight for a massive expansion of public owned homes. This would not only wipe out the waiting lists but it would create thousands of new jobs.
Access to public housing for all would provide a safety net to all those experiencing rent stress and it would also help to push down rents in the private sector.
As well as investment in public housing we also need to fight for rent control and long term leases in the private sector. The rule of the landlords has gone on for far too long.
Rent control means that the amount of rent that a landlord can charge, and how much they can increase it by, is capped by legislation. These measures would prevent landlords from profiting off the increase in property prices that are driven by real estate speculation.
Other measures to curtail profiteering in housing should also be fought for. For example, tax incentives for speculators need to be abolished and the speculative ownership of housing stock needs to be ended.
It is clear that the wealth exists to ensure that everyone is afforded a secure place to live. The problem is that it is being horded by the super-rich.
A more logical system would use the record high profits that the major banks have posted in the last few years to provide debt relief to low paid workers who were conned into taking out unaffordable loans in order to compete with property speculators.
For a housing movement to win these demands it would need to mobilise people into action. Uniting all those suffering from housing stress around a common program would be the first step. Trade unions, tenants’ organisations and community groups have a big role to play. We need to build campaigns in our workplaces, schools and in our local communities.
Victories can be won. For example, in 2013 the Socialist Party led a successful campaign to stop the sell-off of public housing in Victoria. Reforms like rent control and long term leases have been won in other countries through joint struggle.
The nature of capitalism however means that what profiteers are forced to give with one hand, they often try to take with the other. The only way to really ensure that housing is a basic right is to remove the profit motive. We need to reject the rule of the market.
That means that the fight for affordable and secure housing must by necessity be linked with the fight for a different type of society – a socialist society that puts people’s needs first.
By Meredith Jacka