‘I’ve lived in some of the most dilapidated properties in the inner-west, like, really terrible places. Places that were totally eaten up by termites,’ Andrew Potts tells me over the phone.
I’ve never heard any politician say anything like this. Then again, Andrew Potts isn’t your average career politician: he’s a 40–year-old freelance writer living in Ashfield, Sydney. Two years ago, he got so fed up with the city’s extortionate rental market that he registered a political party called the Affordable Housing Party. The upcoming federal election, on May 18, will be the party’s first.
Andrew continues, ‘I lived in a former brothel above Parramatta Road for a number of years that you could just literally stick your fingers through the wall because it was just termite nests. You could still see the marks on the ceilings where they’d divided all the rooms up into little bedrooms when it was operating as a brothel.
‘Sometimes the old customers would come and knock on our door at night. It was a bit sketchy.’
Andrew’s story is appealing because it’s a relatable one. Pretty much everyone I know in Sydney has lived in a grotty, rundown share-house and paid way too much rent for it. Whether it’s a former brothel, a mouldy terrace house, a tiny little flat or a filthy warehouse in an industrial area, we’re living in the midst of a housing affordability crisis and young people are copping it.
‘I just didn’t see any of the established parties who were looking to do anything to really address the housing crisis,’ says Andrew. ‘Even if they’re progressive in politics, once they get into parliament, they get a big salary and they don’t necessarily have to feel the same life pressures that ordinary people have to deal with.
‘We think we need to get some ordinary people up there in Canberra who don’t have vested interests to try to shake things up a bit,’ says Andrew.
One of the Affordable Housing Party’s major gripes is that so many of the career politicians in Canberra own investment properties themselves. This means that they personally profit from the unaffordable rental market.
One of the most corrupt injustices is the travel allowance that federal politicians receive: $276 per night to stay in Canberra. This is more than Centrelink recipients receive in a week. And to rub salt in the wounds, some politicians regularly stay in investment properties owned by their spouses and pay the $276 per night travel allowance to their wives. It’s a loophole that pollies use to pay off their second (or third or fourth) homes.
‘Basically, Australian politicians are way, way more likely than ordinary Australians to own investment properties so in that sense they have a vested interest to keep housing unaffordable,’ says Andrew. ‘Their retirement plan is all based on their property investments.’
In terms of policies, the Affordable Housing Party has three main priorities:
1. To remove tax perks for property investors (ie. Negative gearing and the capital gains discount on selling properties).
2. To convince the government to reinvest in public housing so that disadvantaged and homeless people can afford a place to live
3. To prevent overseas investors from buying property in Australia.
That third point might sound odd but it relates to the rate of vacant properties around the country. According to estimates based on a report by Prosper Australia, up to 300,000 dwellings are deliberately left vacant each year. Andrew says this is largely due to overseas investors who are ‘only parking their money in Australian real estate and they don’t actually care about getting a rental income.’
‘That’s enough housing to house every single person on the public housing waiting list and every single homeless person in Australia,’ says Andrew. ‘So, in the middle of a housing affordability crisis, we actually have an oversupply of housing—it’s just not made available for people to live. It’s a scandal.’
While pretty much anyone who can’t afford to buy a house would agree that rent prices have gotten ridiculous, I wonder how much power a single-issue micro-party has to get a result at the federal election on May 18. The Affordable Housing Party is only running in the Senate and only in NSW, so they’re not going to be running the country anytime soon.
But the goal of a single-issue party, even if it doesn’t win a seat in the Senate, is to bring attention to a particular issue and gain some attention from the major parties. ‘We definitely want to be a vehicle for a protest vote to show the major parties that they need to do more on this,’ says Andrew.
And by his logic, the simplicity of the party’s name is an asset, especially now that voters must choose six preferences when voting above the line. ‘Whether you’ve heard of the Affordable Housing Party or not, if you see that name on the ballot paper, you know exactly what we’re about.’
I tell Andrew that the issue of housing affordability seems very important to young people, but he insists that the demographic that follows the party isn’t just of a certain age.
‘It’s gotten to the point where this issue is basically affecting everyone who’s not wealthy enough to own investment properties.’
Check out the Affordable Housing Party’s policies here. Another great resource is the ABC’s Vote Compass, which is a quick questionnaire that helps you figure out what parties are most aligned with your values.