Socialist Alliance candidate calls for an ‘empty property tax’

Victoria's vacant residential land tax was pointless as owners are not reporting in. Photo: PhotoMIX Company/Pexels

Australia is experiencing a humanitarian crisis as people cannot afford to rent and house prices are simply out of most working people’s reach.

Yet last year’s Census revealed more than 1 million homes across Australia are sitting empty. The Census showed that more than 10% or 1,043,776 homes are unoccupied.

Merri-bek Socialist Alliance (SA) councillor Sue Bolton, who is standing for SA in Pascoe Vale in the Victorian elections said urgent changes were needed to stop land banking.

“We need an ‘empty property tax’ to force landlords to stop land banking and make empty housing available for those who need it,” she said.

Five years ago, Victoria introduced a vacant residential land tax on owners of properties which lay vacant for more than six months in a calendar year.

Bolton said the 1% tax on the capital improved value of land had been “a pointless exercise”.

“Property owners are not self-reporting so the government isn't collecting the tax on vacant properties,” she said.

There are around 300,000 empty homes across the state. They could be used for a variety of purposes, Bolton said, including regular rental as well as to accommodate social and public housing tenants.

“They could also be used to house the homeless, following the program that was so successful over the pandemic lockdowns.”

The national rental vacancy rate has been at 0.9% for three months in a row, meaning that those looking for homes are facing the toughest outlook on record.

“The first home owner’s scheme has been shown to drive up house prices,” Bolton said. “The billions being spent on this farcical program would be better used to construct sustainable public and social housing.

“This would not only create lots of jobs, it would provide security to those facing homelessness and contribute to mitigating the climate crisis,” Bolton said.

The Productivity Commission review also found that the $16 billion a year spent in government housing assistance could be better targeted.

The Age reported on September 30 that about two-thirds of low-income households are spending more than 30% of their income on rent now and 20% spend more than half their income on rent. About a fifth of low-income households have less than $250 left after paying their weekly rent.

Bolton is a councillor in Melbourne’s north west where a climate-change driven rain event has caused flooding in the Marybyrnong and Werribee Rivers.

She said those without safe homes needed to be given housing during the floods and the Victorian government needs to pressure the federal government to do more to fund housing instead of new coal and gas projects.

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