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May 10, 2024

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The Cook government is trying to rebalance Western Australia’s rental market. There has been a flurry of affordable housing-related policy announcements recently to address surging rents and low vacancies.

REIWA assesses Perth’s vacancy rate at 0.6 percent, a long way from a market parity 3.5 percent. The latest announcement aims to encourage property owners to convert their vacant homes into long-term rentals by offering a one-off $5,000 payment. Sorry to be cynical, but a property owner who can afford to leave their property vacant (Granny / Fonzie flats or vacant rooms are ineligible) for a period of longer than six months, doesn’t need a lazy $5,000 to convince them to lease it.

The policy comes off the back of the recent Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA) Incentive Scheme, which encouraged owners to convert their property from the short to long term market with a $10,000 payment. So far, 150 properties have converted their properties into the long-term market or a minute 0.05 percent of rented properties across WA.

In announcing the latest policy, Premier Cook acknowledges the “significant demand for housing” and has committed to “leaving no stone unturned in our work to boost supply of homes.” Responsible Ministers shared the limelight with Treasurer Saffioti suggesting, “This initiative has the potential to bring up to 1,000 properties back onto the rental market.” Commerce Minister Ellery reckoned the STRA Incentive Scheme has been “a success” and Minister Carey (Planning and Housing) reflected on his government “continuing to think outside the box…to boost housing supply.”

To give credit where credit is due, at least the government is doing something and, in this market, something is better than nothing. Unsophisticated private investors – ordinary West Australians – supply 27 percent of all homes to tenants, about 264,000 properties. Government supply about 3 percent. In this time of greatest need, with supply of rental homes at severe lows, these recent housing policies that seek to encourage the investor cohort into supplying more homes will barely scratch the surface.

Meanwhile, big-ticket items that would significantly move the needle on supply are ignored. Stamp duty - where bracket creep means an investor tax of $27,000 at Perth’s median house price - and land tax rebates are obvious places to start. And why not (even temporarily) repeal the foreign investor tax where these buyers pay $76,000 in state tax when buying a $700,000 property? This group, very sensibly, choose to rent rather than pay the tax, soaking up valuable rental stock.

Put simply, governments – supported by the media and tenancy advocates – have been busily whacking investors, whilst simultaneously failing to provide enough rental housing for West Australians as the only possible alternative to the private investor market.

WA’s poor market performance in the years 2012-2020, has left our housing market underprepared for the surge in new arrivals and we’re playing catch up. There is time for meaningful reform to encourage investors into the market to add more supply and whilst relatively small cash incentives may tinker around the edges, they won’t make a meaningful impact.