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Sydney and Melbourne now outstrip London, New York and Los Angeles for expensive housing. Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth aren’t far behind. All of them rank as among the most expensive cities in the world for housing. And when it comes to renters on low incomes, a group that has been ignored by governments for years, the picture is even bleaker. Canberra is worse than Sydney on that measure. Even Hobart’s overheating rental market is starting to catch up to Sydney.
Anglicare Australia’s ninth Rental Affordability Snapshot, released on Monday, has even more bad news for renters. We surveyed 67,000 rental listings from across the country. Only 485 rentals were affordable for someone on the Disability Support Pension; 180 were affordable for a single parent with one child on Newstart. An age pensioner can afford just 833 listings out of 67,000. There are simply no affordable rental listings at all for a person on Newstart or Youth Allowance in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth.
This is pushing people into desperate situations. We know of Anglicare clients who spend almost 80 per cent of their incomes on rent. Not a surprise when you consider the median unit rent in Sydney has climbed to $525 a week. The net pay of someone earning the minimum wage is just $599.
It means that paying the rent can leave pockets so bare there is no money to put food in the fridge. It means people from the country can’t afford to pursue careers in the city. It means those who do move to take jobs don’t get ahead at all. It means rents in regional areas are high as well, with the added challenge of scarce jobs. And it means Australia is becoming more unfair and more unequal. Renting is no longer a safety net for people on low-incomes. One in three Australians rent and many of them are in rental stress. Research shows most want more security, and half fear being blacklisted if they need to raise a concern with their landlord. Of course, many landlords are fair and reasonable. But that hardly matters, because a rental market this overheated can’t reward good landlords or punish bad ones. The laws don’t offer much of a fallback to the foibles of the market. In most parts, tenancy laws give the power to landlords and afford almost no security to renters.
It’s easy to look at this crisis and conclude it’s all a senseless accident. But here again, the truth is ugly. We got here because we have grown used to treating our homes as our main investment vehicles. Tax breaks mean housing is much more attractive than other investments. Our system has been designed to favour investors and speculators, and that is driving up prices.
As the community grows more anxious, most recent budgets have included some kind of nod to housing affordability or homelessness – a new grant here, a funding boost there. These efforts have proven to be piecemeal. Year after year, our Rental Affordability Snapshot and other studies show the problem is only getting worse.
To say our tax settings have caused a crisis is an understatement. They are causing a meltdown, and we won’t be able to truly fix it until we redesign our housing policies so they work for everyone. Anglicare Australia is calling for a fairer tax system by limiting negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions. We can invest the billions we save in social and affordable rental housing for people in need. And we need to make renting fairer by reforming tenancy laws.
These actions are no longer optional. If we don’t make these changes, we will condemn a generation of renters to years of hardship.