By Rina Chandran
BANGKOK, March 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Australian authorities could increase the supply of social housing through measures such as setting aside public land, according to researchers who found that banks have already made substantial investments in the sector.
Banks including Westpac Banking Corp are the largest social impact investors in affordable housing, according to a recent study by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), an independent network.
Banks have loaned as much as A$1.5 billion ($968 million) to community housing providers who assist low-income residents in getting accommodation. Charitable organisations and wealthy individuals have invested about A$20 million, the study said.
While social impact investing is "increasingly of interest in relation to homelessness and housing vulnerability, its application to affordable housing supply has not attracted the same kind of policy attention," the study said.
Discussion around these investments reflects "a deep concern about the lack of affordable housing stock and mounting frustration at the lack of opportunities for investment."
Low interest rates have fuelled a surge in home prices in Australia, with prices in Sydney and Melbourne having more than doubled since 2009.
There are more than 105,000 homeless people in the country, according to the charity Homelessness Australia, which cites "the chronic shortage of affordable and available rental housing" as a main reason.
The A$1.5 billion of social impact investment probably funded the construction of 500 houses, said Andrea Sharam at RMIT University in Melbourne, one of the authors of the report.
Three of Australia's biggest banks, and some smaller regional and cooperative banks have been investing in community housing for the past 10 years, she said.
But government assistance is needed to encourage more social impact investing in the sector.
Measures could include using well-located public land for affordable housing, and changing the zoning on existing redevelopment sites to include such accommodation, she said.
The use of government land "is a reasonable ask as not all surplus land will be viable for commercial needs," Sharam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Affordable housing is key as "there is a need for certain key workers such as cleaners, who commercial tenants need, to be housed nearby as public transport hours to fringe areas is grossly inadequate for shift workers," she said.
($1 = 1.29179 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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