The Greens are advocating for the establishment of a publicly owned builder to undertake construction of new public and affordable homes and to complete construction of homes when private building companies collapse.
The public builder would construct public and affordable housing where it’s needed most and provide maintenance to the homes it builds and to existing public and social housing. When private construction companies go bust, the public builder could step in to ensure that planned and partially completed homes are still finished.
The public builder would help stabilise SA’s building industry and provide well paid jobs and the opportunity to strengthen building standards. More public and affordable homes would mean less people pushed into homelessness and less people needing to compete in the private rental market, making renting more affordable.
I've introduced a motion to Parliament calling on the Government to investigate the establishment of a publicly owned builder. You can read the motion and watch my speech introducing it to the Upper House here.
The Free Market Isn't Working
Construction companies across Australia have been collapsing at a rate that has not been seen for almost a decade. One of the more recent casualties was Porter Davis Homes Group, rated the 13th biggest builder in the country. In 2022 Russ Stephens, co-founder of the Association of Professional Builders, estimated around 50 per cent of Australian building companies were trading insolvent.
In South Australia, prominent companies Qattro Built, Felmeri Homes and Wake Concepts have all collapsed this year. The failure of building companies leaves customers with unfinished houses scrambling to find another builder willing to finish construction and more South Australians out of work.
Currently, the housing system relies on contracts with private developers to address housing demand, including some affordable and social housing within private projects.
The South Australian Housing Trust (SAHT) used to build homes for tens of thousands of South Australian workers. At its peak, SAHT was building 47 percent of all new residential dwellings in South Australia per year, the equivalent of 7,000 homes per year today.
There are over 15,000 on South Australia’s public housing waiting list. SA's public housing stocks currently sit at about 33,000, with about 1500 of those vacant for a variety of issues, including ongoing maintenance.
The SA Housing Authority’s maintenance backlog is estimated at approximately $310m. Maintenance is likely to increase as SA Housing Authority’s housing assets continue to age.
Building Housing for People, Not Profit
There is precedent for public ownership of building companies. Germany for instance has two publicly owned housing construction companies (Gewobag and Bayernheim). Gewobag also acquires existing homes and undeveloped plots of land for conversion to public housing. Turkey also has a publicly owned housing construction company (TOKİ) focused on large scale social housing projects toward the middle- and low-income categories.
The Singapore Housing and Development Board is responsible for planning and carrying out the construction, maintenance and upgrading of public housing. Almost 80% of Singapore’s residents live in public housing.