Housing affordability measures 'more a feather than a scalpel'

A first home buyer would save only 1 per cent of the median property price in Sydney or Melbourne under the government's new super deposit scheme, federal budget figures have revealed, as economists question the benefits of the policy for areas hit by the housing affordability crisis.

Spruiking the Turnbull government's first home super scheme in Parliament on Wednesday, Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government would "enable people who are saving for their home to get there 30 per cent faster".

But in a best-case scenario, an analysis of the government's own figures show a couple who saved the maximum of $30,000 each would gain an extra $12,000 over three years under the government's new salary sacrifice scheme.

By the time they had finished saving they would have earned half of an average deposit, but if Sydney and Melbourne house prices continue climbing at their present rates, by then they would be 30 per cent higher, wiping out the $12,000 gain.

The rate of return mirrors the Rudd government's failed First Home Saver Accounts program, where less than 50,000 were opened before it was abolished by the Abbott government in the 2014 budget.

UNSW professor of economics Richard Holden said the move would cost the government $250 million and "do nothing to help first home owners".

On Wednesday, CoreLogic's head of research Tim Lawless warned there was also a risk the contribution could fuel further price growth by adding to demand, but said the scheme was likely to improve demand gradually and encourage savings.

He said investment demand would taper further as the government cracked down on investors claiming depreciation on home assets such as dishwashers and slugging foreign buyers with a $5000 levy on properties that are left vacant for six months.

There is no data available on the number of homes left vacant by foreign buyers, who purchase one in five new homes NSW and Victoria each year, and enforcing a levy by inspecting empty homes could prove difficult despite the Grattan Institute saying it had "anecdotal evidence" of homes being left vacant.

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Overall, economists have been cautious on how much the government can dampen demand through the suite of measures, which also includes banning developers from selling more than half of a development to foreign buyers, releasing Commonwealth land for housing development and encouraging seniors to downsize through superannuation concessions.

Analyst Greg Travers said the measures are only a "feather to fixing housing affordability".

"While the government feels it has taken a scalpel to the housing affordability crisis, the reality is it's more of a feather," said the William Buck tax director. "They have danced around the edges and failed to address the big issues."

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen described the package as a "joke".

"This is a diversion from the fact that the government won't reform negative gearing and capital gains tax, which are the two biggest things you can do to improve housing affordability in Australia," he said.

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The story Housing affordability measures 'more a feather than a scalpel' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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