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Rental Affordability Crisis Compromising People’s Right to a Home

27 April 2017 at 7:55 am
Wendy Williams
Australians on low incomes are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet, according to a new report which has prompted calls for the government to take urgent action on rental affordability in the upcoming budget.

Wendy Williams | 27 April 2017 at 7:55 am


Rental Affordability Crisis Compromising People’s Right to a Home
27 April 2017 at 7:55 am

Australians on low incomes are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet, according to a new report which has prompted calls for the government to take urgent action on rental affordability in the upcoming budget.

The 2017 Rental Affordability Snapshot, released by Anglicare Australia on Thursday, found there was a “dire shortage” of affordable rental houses for people on low income, with people living on income support payments hardly able to afford rent anywhere.

Researchers found less than 1 per cent of properties across the country were affordable for pensioners, those on other Centrelink benefits, or those earning the minimum wage.

In Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory there wasn’t a single property that would be affordable for a single person living on Newstart or Youth Allowance.

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers told Pro Bono News it was getting tougher for renters to make a real home.

“It’s not a question of owning or renting. Everyone needs – and should have – a home,” Chambers said.

“Housing is so fundamental to people’s well being and not simply housing but the ability to build and make yourself a home which is the very root of human well being  –  somewhere people can have shelter, have safety, have security, somewhere to keep their belongings, somewhere to bring up children, somewhere to be educated or go to work from, all those things that are around belonging and participation.

“That’s very difficult when you can’t find yourself somewhere you can afford.

“For eight years now, Anglicare Australia’s Rental Affordability Snapshot has highlighted the experiences of people on the lowest incomes in the rental market. What we’ve learned is that it’s getting tougher for renters to make a real home for themselves and their families.

“Australians on low incomes are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet. And people living on income support payments can hardly afford rent anywhere.”

According to the report, rental stress is defined as a household paying more than 30 per cent of its income to a landlord, yet in some cases households were paying up to half their income on rent, leaving tenants unable to pay for basics.

From more than 67,000 properties surveyed across Australia, the report found just 586 were affordable for a single person on the Disability Support Pension, 239 were affordable for a single parent with one child on Newstart, 21 were affordable for a single person on Newstart and only eight were affordable for a single person in a property or share house on Youth Allowance.

Chambers said the problem was not limited to the major cities.

“Many Australians already know that our major cities are becoming places where only the very wealthy can avoid housing stress. But this report shows that renters on low incomes are in trouble all over Australia, with regional areas failing to offer relief,” she said.

“Payments like Newstart, Youth Allowance, Disability Support and Aged Pensions have become a poverty trap.

“They’re so low that paying rent means you can’t then afford to buy food, clothing, transport or go to the doctor.”

She said the findings had been consistent over the last eight years, but the discussion was only just catching up to what many Australians had experienced for a much longer time.

“So our figures aren’t that different to previous years. There are changes at the top end of the market but they really don’t affect the people that we are concerned about on government benefits and minimum wage and low incomes,” she said.

“So often a lot of the conversation about the housing market is concerned with bubbles and what is going on at the top.

“The point of us keeping doing this and keeping talking about this, is that 25 per cent of Australians live in the private rental market and many of them are actually experiencing housing stress.

“If there is one thing we know from doing this for eight years it is that we can’t leave housing affordability to the market. It is not a problem that the market seems to be able to solve.

“This year we surveyed over 67,700 properties so it is no small number… we only found eight for example that would be affordable for a single person who was living on Youth Allowance. Only 21 across the country would have been affordable for single person on Newstart so these are really disturbing figures when we think about people on those benefits.”

Chambers said they were hopeful the upcoming federal budget would address the issue of housing affordability.

“We are seeing some good messages, I would list amongst those that the treasurer himself has highlighted renters, they tend to be a forgotten set of people which is why we started this survey eight years ago,” she said.

“So we have some hope that at least everybody is agreeing that this is the situation, that a country that is as rich as Australia should not be in.

“What we don’t want to see tinkering around the edges. We recognise there is a lot of housing policy you need to change slowly but that doesn’t mean you need to tinker around the edges, we need a long visionary plan that is going to change the situation and actually help bring in the other governments and the other parts of the community.

“We didn’t get into this situation overnight and it won’t be mended overnight but what we do want to see is an investment in public and social housing, we want to see a plan to improve the balance between landlords and renters  –  at the moment it is very skewed towards landlords, people can be asked to leave with no reason at very short notice  –  we do want to look at winding back capital gains tax and negative gearing, or targeting it to lower rents or particular types of housing stock.

“And, we say this every time, but we cannot expect people to participate in our community, to look for work, if they haven’t got secure housing and they are unable to find secure housing on income support payments, so we have to look at the rate of income support payments particularly Newstart and Youth Allowance.”

She said it was time for the government to reclaim its responsibility to provide a home for its citizens.

“The government has acknowledged there is a crisis in rental affordability. The next budget is a chance for it to show us whether it includes all Australians when it talks about Australian values,” Chambers said.

“If the last eight years have shown us anything, it’s that housing affordability is not a problem that can simply be left to the market. It’s time for the government to reclaim its responsibility to provide a home for its citizens – and this budget is their chance to do it.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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One comment

  • Chris Y says:

    Good points. They apply even more to Sydney and Melbourne than other places. It may be a bit more apparent in Sydney.
    The actual problem is a distressingly common moral disease which puts profits before people. The system allows speculators to profit from newly released land, by exploiting scarcity value. It is not as if we are cursed with government incompetence; worse, I fear; we are subject to corrupted pollies of ill-will and depraved attitudes. They can’t afford to open the public purse strings for public housing, but billions are squandered on tax breaks for the private benefit of speculators. But how do these corrupt, selfish attitudes survive? It must be because they get support in the electorate. Sadly, a lot of Australians are avaricious and selfish. For evidence of depravity, just read the press. Start with the Domain section of the SMH. Article after article, journo after journo. all on the side of speculators and profiteers. It only reflects prevalent exploitative attitudes. If you want the truth, it is ugly and it reveals a flawed approach to wealth creation. Too many benefit from the property profit chain, and pollies aren’t ready to upset that lot. Meanwhile, do you notice all those young spivs driving about in Porsches and BMWs? Where do you think they made their money? A property speculation collapse will be the welcome antidote, especially in the big cities. It can’t come soon enough.

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