MEDIA RELEASE: Government Spending on Housing

January 16, 2024

Media Release: For immediate release

A new research paper from the Centre for Equitable Housing at Per Capita attempts to build a coherent picture of Australia’s real federal housing budget, and to determine how government intervention in the housing market affects housing affordability and security.

The paper looks at the history of government housing programs and asks whether the tens of billions of dollars the public gives to support the housing needs and choices of Australians is money well spent in the pursuit of a fairer, more inclusive and more sustainable society.

Key findings

  • The housing sub-function of the Federal Budget was $3.5 billion in 2021/22, but this did not include key housing support measures such as Commonwealth Rent Assistance and property tax concessions. With these included, actual 2021-2022 federal expenditure on housing is estimated at $27 billion.
  • The share of federal housing spending going to the lowest 20% of income earners declined from 44% in 1993 to 23% in 2023, while the share going to the top 20% increased from 9% to 43%.
  • In the last decade alone, the share going to the top 20% of earners has increased by over a third.
  • The share of total federal housing expenditure going to property investors rose from 16.5% in 1993-94 to 61.4% in 2021-22.
  • Investor tax concessions have grown from $1.5 billion in 2000 to an estimated $18 billion in 2024, effectively operating as a shadow housing policy with a significant impact on the market.
  • In 2023-2024, federal investor tax breaks will be worth more than ten times the amount spent by the Federal Government on social housing and homelessness servicesthrough the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.
  • Strategic expenditure on social housing and homelessness services, which are negotiated between the Federal and State/Territory Governments, once made up well over half of total federal housing spending. Now just 7% of total federal housing expenditure goes toward these programs.

Director of the Centre for Equitable Housing, Matt Lloyd-Cape, said “Housing expenditure by the federal government is siloed, with no overarching housing policy guiding spending toward defined objectives. This means that housing programs to support people on low incomes have become more tactical than strategic, and reactive rather than proactive.”

“Expenditures through tax concessions, on the other hand, have no explicitly stated strategic objectives that would serve the national interest, and operate without any justification of their effect on the housing market and the availability of secure and affordable homes.”

Emma Dawson, Executive Director of Per Capita, said “Our national leaders recognised that ensuring all residents of the country could afford a secure and comfortable home was a core function of government. Since the mid-1970s, however, that function has been increasingly and determinedly outsourced to the free market.”

“For too long, the federal government has eschewed its role as a shaper of the housing market in the interests of the Australian people in favour of merely providing a welfare-based safety net for those the market does not wish to serve. This has seen a significant decline in the stock of social housing in favour of spending on Commonwealth Rent Assistance, which subsidises rents set by the market.”

“That’s not to say that the government no longer intervenes in the housing market; far from it. In fact, through investor tax concessions, Treasury pumps billions of dollars every year into the pockets of people who already have considerable assets to encourage them to acquire more, pushing up the price of land.”

Housing in Australia is at crisis point. The issue demands a determined, interventionist policy suite coordinated by a discrete federal department under the responsibility of a federal cabinet minister.

Per Capita calls on the federal government to coordinate housing policy and expenditure through a core economic portfolio of government, and to publish detailed portfolio budget statements, as is done for other key areas of social policy such as health and education.

Media enquiries: Emma Dawson on 0400 372 738 or Matt Lloyd-Cape on 0468 321 799 or