- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #2005
Australia is facing a massive housing crisis. As it becomes increasingly more difficult to find affordable rental accommodation, governments are turning their backs on renters to fund profiteering private developers and private home ownership. For the majority of people under forty, home ownership is unaffordable.
Anglicare’s most recent Rental Affordability Snapshot sheds some light on the extent of the housing crisis that people on low incomes are grappling with. The Snapshot looked at the affordability of the 45,992 residential rental properties listed on 19th March for various groups. The Snapshot is taken annually on one weekend during the month of March or April.
Ten years ago research by Anglicare showed about thirty per cent of listed rental properties were affordable for families with both parents on a minimum wage. Since then affordability has plummeted by half to 15.3 per cent where there are two parents. For a single parent on the minimum wage only 0.7 per cent of listed rentals are affordable! Those figures include the Family Tax Benefit and Commonwealth Rent Assistance. The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute notes that the number of people receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance has increased by 126 per cent since 2016.
There are around two million workers on the minimum wage – just over one in six employees. Many of these are casuals or work part-time. They face an even more difficult challenge to secure rental accommodation. One million Australians are underemployed, many facing an even more difficult financial situation. Home ownership is completely out of the question.
When it comes to defining “affordable”, the benchmark that Anglicare Australia uses is that rent needs to be no more than thirty percent of a household budget for it not to cause financial stress and difficult choices. This is a nationally accepted benchmark based on many years of study into the impact of the cost of living and how it affects people.
Despite the decline in the official unemployment rate, there are 950,000 people on JobSeeker. The Snapshot found that only SEVEN rental listings across the nation were affordable for a single person on Jobseeker out of 45,992 listed. All of these were rooms in shared houses.
For a single person with two children (one aged under five and the other under ten) on JobSeeker, the number of affordable listings was TWENTY. That is before suitability and location and competition for each listing is taken into consideration. For example, a rental property in Broken Hill is not practical for someone living in Perth and moving there would hardly meet Centrelink’s rules.
The Snapshot cannot consider the competition for each of these properties. In an overheated market, an affordable property can attract dozens of applications, with some offering more than the asking rental to gain a roof over their head.
The age pension is the largest income support payment. For a couple on the age pension 663 were affordable (1.4 per cent) and for single person on the age pension, 312 (0.7 per cent) were affordable. Many are rooms in share houses that might not be appropriate for an older person.
For people with disability, it is even more difficult in the private market. A single person aged over twenty-one on the Disability Support Pension could afford just fifty-one (0.1 per cent) of the 45,992 properties at the time of the Snapshot. However, the Snapshot did not measure accessibility or modifications, bringing into question suitability for some people with disability.
A single person over eighteen on the Youth Allowance has zero chance of finding rental accommodation with only ONE affordable listing in Australia.
Capitalist economists ignore the human side of these statistics. These are real people, people struggling to put a roof over their head, to make ends meet, struggling to hold or find a job as well as put food on the table. The housing crisis has an impact on every aspect of life of those affected including mental health and well-being.
DRIVERS OF CRISIS
There are a number of factors contributing to the housing crisis including:
- Average real wages have been stagnant and in the most recent years falling. At the same time those on lower wages have fallen further behind widening the gap between low and high incomes.
- Social security payments are punitively low and remain below the poverty line. It is absolutely disgraceful and immoral to expect an unemployed person to live on $45.91 a day or someone on the youth allowance (over eighteen) living away from home on $36.57 a day.
- The number of advertisements for rental homes has plummeted by over a third. “This is an unprecedented drop. The national vacancy rate has fallen to record lows, halving from two per cent to one per cent over the past year,” Anglicare Executive Director Kasy Chambers noted in the report.
- Households face considerable pressure from rising costs such as for food, transport, and education. The Consumer Price Index of 5.1 per cent does not take into account the cost of housing! The real hike in the cost of living is far higher.
- Governments have been selling off public housing stock to private developers. One of the worst offenders is the NSW Coalition government. It has sold 4,205 properties across the state for a total of $3.5 billion. It claims that all the funds will be used to build “more and better” social housing stock, but available data suggests otherwise. It is nothing short of a wholesale handover of public assets to its developer mates.
- The massive shortage of rental accommodation that is driving up prices is unlikely to ease in the near future as international students return and the number of immigration and work visas increases.
- Governments have been winding back building stock of public housing and redirecting reduced funding to the private sector.
- Housing is being commodified as investors turn to it as a secure source for investments, especially during times of economic uncertainty. As prospective homeowners on limited budgets compete for housing it only increases demand and pushes up prices. Rents usually follow.
Australia has one of the highest per capita debt in the world. This is due to the relatively high number of people attempting to pay off mortgages to fulfill the Australian Dream of home ownership. The Average mortgage in Australia is around $600,000 and in Sydney is more than $750,000.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) announced a rise in interest rates from 0.1 per cent to 0.35 per cent last week. That is an increase of 2.5 times (250 per cent) in the cost of interest payments if the banks pass the full increase on to home loans as they usually do. The RBA expects more rises to come.
Once this increase flows through, people with home loans face a hike in their loan repayments as high as $60 or $70 a month on an average mortgage or even more depending on the size of their loan.
Many mortgagees already under housing stress face the prospect of homelessness. There are already many more than 100,000 homeless in Australia. There was a lending spree when the RBA indicated that there would not be an increase in the interest rate before 2024. At the time rates were at a record low of 0.1 per cent. As a consequence, thousands of borrowers are over-committed.
The Morrison government blames external factors, not its economic policies. In part that is true but there is a domestic component. The government’s HomBuilder scheme stimulated demand driving up housing prices which are a large component of price inflation. Inflation was one of the critical factors behind the RBA’s decision.
Housing is a basic human right enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. In a modern, industrialised and relatively wealthy nation like Australia there is no excuse for homelessness or people being forced into sub-standard accommodation. The Communist Party of Australia calls for:
- Substantial increases in government funding from all three levels of government for the construction of public housing, restoration of existing public housing, and purchase of additional homes from the private sector. Reverse the present trend where governments spend six times more on private housing – through grants and subsidies to home buyers – than they spend on public housing.
- Planned construction of public housing in rural and regional areas as well as cities according to social needs.
- Construction of public housing to be carried out by the public sector and wherever possible Australian products to be used.
- Public housing to be integrated with other housing and to provide for a mix of people. There should be no pockets of public housing for the disadvantaged.
- Raise eligibility for public housing to an income level of $80,000.
- Public housing to have a set rental as a percentage of income.
- Rental reductions for public housing tenants in case of loss of jobs through retrenchment or sickness.
- Rental controls on private housing and measures to protect tenants during periods of financial stress.
- Superannuation funds to be required to invest a certain percentage of their funds in the construction of public housing with a return of income from government.
- Timely and proper maintenance and upkeep of all public housing.
The CPA will do its utmost to expose and oppose all politicians and political parties who support the privatisation of public housing and public housing land.
There is no material impediment to Australia adopting once again a large-scale commitment to public housing. The problem is government support for private profit-making in the housing sector.