Need for a Better Housing Future
6 June 2013 at 10:18 am
OPINION: The shift away from government provision of public housing towards a private market subsidised by government payments for low income earners has been a disaster, says Andrew Yule from Anglicare Victoria.
With the Federal Budget and Opposition response now behind us, you could be forgiven for thinking Australia doesn’t have an affordable housing crisis.
That is, of course, unless you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Australian families locked out of the inflated property market searching (mostly in vain) for an affordable place to rent.
Recent research by Anglicare shows less than one per cent of private rental housing around the country is affordable for those living on government payments such as parenting payment, disability payment or Newstart.
In another recent report, the National Welfare Rights Network reveals more than 157,000 people who receive Commonwealth Rent Assistance pay more than 50 per cent of their income in rent.
The number of welfare recipients living in housing stress has ballooned by close to 10 per cent in just two years.
But what about those who are working?
The Anglicare report shows that even a couple working full time and both earning minimum wage while raising two children can only afford eight per cent of rental housing advertised around the country.
And those figures aren’t about to improve any time soon.
Competition for housing at the bottom end of the market in Australia’s big cities is fierce as our population continues to swell. Australian Bureau of Statistics’ data shows 1,500 new resident move into greater Melbourne each week. Perth and Sydney trail slightly, both welcoming approximately 1,200 new residents every week.
Simple supply and demand logic tells us the rental market is not going to soften any time soon.
So how did we get here and where did we go wrong?
The shift away from government provision of public housing towards a private market subsidised by government payments for low income earners has been a disaster.
Negative gearing, the taxation strategy implemented to encourage private investment in rental stock, has been named the worst tax decision in the past 20 years by respected economist Saul Eslake. It is a huge drain on government income while simultaneously failing to generate adequate and appropriate housing stock for the market.
Commonwealth Rent Assistance, the government payment to subsidise housing for low income earners, has not kept pace with rising rent prices and is delivering little relief from housing stress.
Rent Assistance is tied to CPI yet, in the past five years, capital city rents have increased at twice the rate of inflation.
The result of these two failed policies as a shortage of around 500,000 rental properties for low income earners.
The real-life implication when someone pays too much for their housing is that they are forced to go without something else. Often another essential item.
The ABS tells us nearly 40 per cent of the poorest households were unable to pay electricity, gas or telephone bills on time during 2010.
Anglicare Victoria’s Hardship Survey shows that when money is tight, families cut back on food, buying prescription medication and, sometimes, up-to-date school books and uniforms for their children.
The realities of expensive housing therefore are children disengaging from education, adults sacrificing their health and whole families are at risk of losing their homes.
In this midst of all this, we hear disappointingly little on this issue from our country’s leaders.
Affordable and safe housing is the bedrock a well-functioning society is built on. Yet our Federal Government and Opposition have shown little interest in tackling this complex issue.
We are in desperate need of a party with a housing vision and the commitment to see it through.
We’ve had the Gonski review of education – now is the time for a high level national review of housing including the provision of public housing stock, barriers to affordable housing development and the effectiveness of Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
It’s the first step towards a better housing future.
About the author: Andrew Yule is the marketing and communication manager for Anglicare Victoria.