When I asked Adrian Harrington, the 396th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, why he was so passionate about housing affordability and social housing, he told me about a poignant incident from a few years ago.

Adrian was attending the opening of a new community housing development when he heard the sad (and sadly common) story of one of the residents, a woman in early fifties. She had been divorced and left with virtually nothing, and had been living in her car for the past six months because she couldn’t find an affordable rental property.

This woman looked and acted like any other woman of her age; there was nothing to suggest she was homeless. It reinforced to Adrian that a lot more people are susceptible to homelessness than is commonly realised, due to a severe undersupply of affordable and social housing.

Adrian has spent more than three decades working in real estate funds management, and more recently has served as a board member and adviser in the social and affordable housing sector. He is the former chair of the federal government’s National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (now known as Housing Australia) and currently serves as the NSW chair of Housing All Australians, a not-for-profit organisation focusing on providing housing to the homelessness and vulnerable women. He is also the chair of Charter Hall Direct Property Management, the responsible entity for Charter Hall’s direct property funds business.

Adrian says housing market conditions are as bad as they’ve been during his career, due to the perfect storm: a shortage of housing, rising prices, rising rents and difficult building conditions. He says addressing the housing crisis requires a holistic and multi-faceted approach. Those advocating for a quick fix must understand that housing supply tends to be relatively inelastic. Expanding new supply swiftly encounters challenges such as land availability, planning approval processes and construction lead times. 

Consequently, Adrian says, we need both short- and long-term strategies that address both demand and supply issues. And we cannot just focus on one particular cohort or housing type. 

He wants the government to provide tax breaks to institutions to invest in build-to-rent developments, so they’re incentivised to construct a lot of new rental housing. He’d also like state governments to put more money into social housing, to protect the more vulnerable members of our community.

That said, Adrian knows there are no easy or quick fixes available: solving such a big, structural problem will take a lot of money, time and political will.

In the meantime, as more people find it harder to buy or even rent a property, the number of disgruntled voters will grow, Adrian says. He predicts housing will be a focal point in the upcoming federal election.