The Guardian • Issue #2009

Housing crisis in the capital

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2009

Canberra Bungalows. Photo: Stilgherrian (CC BY 2.0)

During the past 20 years of Labor and Labor-Green Territory government, Canberra has developed a reputation as “one of the most progressive cities in Australia” but participants in the city’s rental market would describe it as anything but. Housing affordability has become the key issue in many residents’ lives, particularly those in financially precarious situations like pensioners, students and those receiving working age social security payments. The 2021 Domain Rental Report found that the ACT has the highest rents in the entire country, with the median weekly rent sitting at $630 for houses and $500 for units, exceeding the national average by more than $150 per week. Similarly, Anglicare Australia’s 2021 Rental Affordability Snapshot found that those on working age social security (JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Disability Support Pension) could not afford any of the 1,002 private rental properties listed at the time. For many of the city’s largely transient population of public servants and students of the four major universities, living in Canberra has become unaffordable.

Canberra, a city once built almost entirely on public housing, now has one of the lowest levels of public housing in the entire country, it makes up only 6.7 per cent of residential dwellings as of 2020. This situation is part of a longer trend in the ACT, with the number of public housing units decreasing by 874 during the 2011-2020 period while the territory population grew by 63,000. According to the ACT Council of Social Services, the ACT is now more than 3,100 public housing properties short, with this shortage only set to increase due to the Territory government’s unwillingness to expand public housing. The “progressive” Labor-Green coalition has allocated more than $500 million to the Public Housing Renewal Program in successive budgets, yet none of this funding has been used to increase the share of public housing. The Territory government has instead used the lion’s share of this funding on the relocation of conveniently situated public housing developments to the outskirts of the city, leaving many without access to community services and public transport.

Further compounding the city’s rental affordability and public housing crisis is the relatively recent 2019 decision of the Territory government to entirely cut funding to the Tenant’s Union ACT. The Tenant’s Union formerly received funding from the ACT government to provide legal support and resources to tenants in their struggles with landlords. This funding was removed by the incumbent Labor-Green government and given to Legal Aid, a service that provides legal advice on a range of issues to territory residents but without a specific focus on tenants’ rights and achieving housing affordability. The Tenant’s Union continues to operate as a volunteer service but with no funding and no paid staff, unable to provide legal support and representation to those who need it. In a statement the Tenant’s Union revealed that it “is very concerned that there is no longer funding for monitoring the needs and issues for renters in the ACT, for developing policy and responses to those issues”. 

If the situation in the ACT shows anything to Territory residents, and the broader Australian public, it is that even with so called “progressive” leadership under the ALP and Greens the government is unwilling to act on the issues that concern the everyday Australian. For real change to be made (the kind which sees housing as a human right and available to all) workers must organise and struggle for a better future.

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