ACT News

Changes to Land Rent scheme a boost for newcomers

Households earning up to $160,000 a year can now get a taxpayer-assisted helping hand into Canberra's housing market, courtesy of the ACT government.

Changes to the territory's Land Rent affordability scheme will increase the income cut-off from $98,000 to $160,000.

Home buyers who have already bought into the scheme say they could be up to $100,0000 worse off, over the years, than more affluent newcomers.

But the territory government says the changes will prevent well-heeled investors or greedy builders from taking advantage of the generous scheme.

Land Rent, introduced in 2008 as a response to the capital's housing affordability crisis, allows purchasers to rent their block but buy their house, paying an annual rental of either 2 per cent or 4 per cent of the block's value.

Only purchasers earning less than $97,800 were eligible for the lower rate, but the rules allowed couples to take advantage by nominating the partner with the lower salary as the lessee.

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Under the new rules, the 4 per cent rate is to be scrapped and a household income threshold of $160,000 will be introduced. But that has left existing scheme members, especially those who just missed the old threshold, furious.

James Petterson, who bought a Bonner home with his wife Sarah under the old rules, said the new arrangements punished those purchasers who did the right thing when they first signed their leases.

"People found a loophole to get the concessional rate under the original rules,'' he said. ''Instead of putting the lessees on the lease, they would put down the one with the lowest income.

"My wife and I did the right thing - we put our names on, both of us, so we would get the loan but that meant we were only allowed to earn $97,800 to qualify for the 2 per cent rate.''

Mr Petterson said his family was narrowly over the threshold, making them eligible for an annual rent bill of $10,000. "I've done some calculations and over a 20-year period, I would have to pay $100,000 more than someone earning a third more than what I earn," he said.

"OK, they've made this change and they're targeting people who have been doing the wrong thing, but what about people who have been doing the right thing?"

Land Rent has been considered an overall success, helping about 1300 Canberrans buy their homes, mostly in the city's rapidly developing northern suburbs, in its first four years of operation.

The median land value is about $256,000 a block, with prices ranging from $89,000 to $567,000.

But Land Rent has been dogged by problems and has needed constant fine-tuning to deter abuse by shrewd investors or builders.

A spokesman for Economic Development Minister Andrew Barr said the changes would further strengthen the integrity of the scheme.

"The new eligibility criteria will restrict the scheme to low- to moderate-income households," he said.

"The 4 per cent rate, which had no income eligibility criteria, will no longer be available to new entrants to the scheme.

"This change will also help to overcome builders using the scheme for land banking.

"The income eligibility criterion for new entrants to the scheme has changed from being based on the income of the lessee to the household income. The income threshold for households was changed to $160,000 to bring it into line with the Home Buyer Concession Scheme."

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