- The Guardian
- Issue #2038
Mitchell St, Glebe, Sydney. Photo: Sardaka (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Last year Australia recorded an overall increase in rents of 10.2 per cent, the biggest-ever rent increase recorded nationally. The cost of rent has risen for seven consecutive quarters across all Australian cities. Zach Doney, Renters and Housing Union (RAHU) member, described the increases as “pathetic”, with tenants yet again being expected to pay for their landlord’s poor investment strategies as the cost of borrowed money increases.
RAHU is a union in the housing sector for everyone who needs a roof over their head but can’t afford to buy one. Zach writes:
“We are fighting multinational capital and one of the pillars of the Australian economy. It’s difficult. The fight does not cease. I go to my job, get paid, then come home to apply for repairs, push back against a rent increase, mow the lawn, and do the rest of living while my real estate agent gets paid to oversee the largely automated tasks of ‘managing’ the property in which I live.”
Is public housing the answer?
Genuine public housing is a good solution to the housing crisis except that it requires state governments to be well resourced and have enough political capital to take on the property industry, meaning we shouldn’t hold our breath while waiting for public housing to come to the rescue, and that public housing will have to be fought for.
Widespread availability of public housing reduces the “scarcity” aspect of housing. Therefore prices decrease. In reality, there is not really a scarcity issue everywhere. Instead, there is a mixture of land-banking, vacant-properties-as-large-scale-investment-strategy, and short-term rental carry on which has the outcome of increasing the price of rent (land banking is the practice of buying vacant land or property in bad condition with an eye to developing it later on).
The Victorian Labor government has committed $1billion to a social housing fund called the Social and Affordable Housing Contribution (SAHC). The funding is managed by a board chaired by private social housing and development companies, so any expansion or improvement in public housing will depend on investment returns generated by the growth fund.
How bad is the rental crisis?
On Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, the CEO of Morning Peninsula Shire has said that there is no longer a viable private rental market. There are an estimated 1,000 rough sleepers and there have been just under 3,000 applications for public housing. A majority of renters in Australia are at a much higher risk of homelessness than of ever owning their own home.
What’s being done? What can we do?
RAHU is organising about this. Since they are not a trade union, they can’t use OH&S or industrial action as a lever. “We have the Residential Tenancies Act as our legislation and that’s about it,” said Doney. RAHU works to agitate against predatory Real Estate Agencies and exposes them where possible. They work to help people push back against rent increases and dodgy eviction notices.
RAHU is campaigning for:
- A National Housing Policy to regulate the rental market. This would include tying a National Rental Price index to the national Cost Price Index and median wage growth.
- An independent Residential Tenancies Ombudsman to investigate breaches by agencies and owners, like the ombudsmen that enforce regulations in other consumer codes such as telecommunications and utilities.
- Abolition of negative gearing and tax breaks for landowners and investors.
- A rent freeze.
- A ban on no-grounds evictions.
- A vast expansion of real public housing.
Last year RAHU ran a campaign called “The Rent Is Too High”, picketing some of Melbourne’s most notorious real estate agencies, and demonstrating at the Victorian Parliament for improved legislative protections for renters. Doney says “We are politicising people on the basis of housing.”
The Communist Party of Australia strongly supports public housing and the rights of tenants. If you are in rental housing, join RAHU and help them fight back.