The Guardian • Issue #1995

“Grants” for homeowners, but “handouts” for renters

“Living with other people, you start off in that nice accommodating phase. “Okay we’re going to get on.” You try really hard. It’s all going to be great. You buy stuff together, you talk, you share, you bond over instant coffee in the kitchen late at night. And then it starts to get a little cramped, becomes too much … You don’t want to put the effort in anymore. It’s almost like an ill-considered marriage … So you start thinking divorce. You’re not talking. You’re knifing each other to your mutual friends, trying to entangle them in a complicated network of alliances to suit your ends. Then you’re not even thinking divorce, you’re thinking of preemptive strike.”

This excerpt from John Birmingham’s book, He died with a felafel in his hand painted an all-too-familiar picture of the sharehouse lifestyle so relatable to single working class people and students across Australia. Over twenty years on, the disturbing relatability of the collection of sharehouse testimonies rings very true, with strangers forced to share homes designed for the nuclear family. This is not to say that people cannot have wonderful housemates and great experiences, but far too often the instability of income, the inability to get to know each other well first, and changes in relationships can have disastrous impacts.

In saying this, having a room to rent in a house is a relatively good situation for many working class Australians who simply cannot afford a bond, or do not have high enough wages to be considered for a place of their own. Even those who are able to secure a rental property end up illegally subletting to make ends meet. The pressure on tenants to maintain housing most certainly does not help in maintaining a peaceful household.

The idea of buying a house is simply laughable for many renters. As of the beginning of February, Australian property analysts, CoreLogic, revealed that three of the eight capital cities are now recording a median house value of over $1 million dollars. The best the majority can do is avoid instability and homelessness by finding housemates that can help pay the rent, get along, and keep the house in a good condition.

In response to the economic crisis caused by COVID19, the government introduced the $41.6 billion HomeBuilder program for individuals and couples looking to build or buy a new home, or make major renovations on their existing properties, providing them with grants ranging from $15,000 to $25,000.

While this enormous stimulus injection scheme has been praised for boosting economic activity, it neglects the fact that thirty-two per cent (2.5 million households) rent from private landlords or state/territory authorities, and renters are more likely to have low incomes or rely on Centrelink payments. It seems somewhat unfair that homeowners receive these grants, while those who can only afford to rent are criticised for receiving “handouts.” It seems this term is only used to discriminate against those who are already in the most economically vulnerable situations.

Additionally, the increase in domestic violence and homelessness has a direct connection to the ongoing housing crisis. Without any other option, those who have been assaulted by someone in their home may choose to stay in the home to avoid homelessness, remaining in dangerous situations. Domestic violence shelters are flooded, with some having to turn away up to twenty-five women per day (up from fifteen since the COVID-19 pandemic), leading to increasing homelessness.

Living uncomfortably with relative strangers is petty in comparison, especially that it is now the “norm” for many working class people in Australia. However, this is a clear result of the ongoing housing crisis, which leaves renters with few options.

The Communist Party of Australia believes housing is a basic human right, and that in an industrialised and relatively wealthy nation like Australia, there is no excuse for homelessness or people being forced into sub-standard accommodation. The CPA supports a national, government funded and owned public housing program with affordable rents based on income, and a call for an immediate build-up in the stock of public housing which has suffered as a result of increased privatisation.

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