The Guardian • Issue #2067


When rent freezes over

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2067

Rent is in the news lately, for several reasons. There is a national housing crisis. The Albanese Labor government, always keen to be seen as progressive without upsetting anyone who benefits from things as they are, has had a housing bill blocked by the Greens who are pushing for rent freezes, more actual spending on housing, and a raft of other improvements for tenant rights, such as long-term leases and enforcing minimum standards for rental properties. Some state and territory governments are considering rental freezes or controls.

Are rent freezes the answer?

For a lot of the Australian commentators, the idea of landlords losing the right to charge whatever they like whenever they like is anathema. Landlords would stop renting if they lost this incentive, they claim. The commentators don’t explain what would happen to the properties the landlords stop renting. Presumably, the landlords would sell the properties to people who would either live in them or rent them out. There’s another group of Australians who can’t get whatever they like whenever they like. They’re called workers, and they still rock up to work even though they can’t just jack up wages whenever they want to, like landlords can do with rent.

Are rent freezes enough? On their own, absolutely not. Housing in Australia is plagued with rorts which have been set up to transfer money from people who work for a living to people who own property. In neoliberal ideology, this is meant to transform workers into either property owners or would-be property owners. In neoliberal practice it increases inequality and is on the way to creating an underclass. Rent freezes are a good idea, but would leave the rest of the system unchanged. Likewise, the CFMEU’s Zach Smith has called for a tax on large corporate profits, to raise funds for building more homes. It’s another good idea, which Labor will not do, but it’s not enough. The problem is the system. Let’s look at the rorts.

One rort is negative gearing. This gives a tax discount to people who own investment properties at the expense of people who own one or none. If you own a property and rent it out for less than you pay on your mortgage, you get the difference off your taxable income. Another is the capital gains discount. If I work at a job, I’m taxed. If I do nothing except own a property, live in it and then sell it at a profit, I get a tax discount. These two rorts alone will cost Australia some $20 billion over the next decade.

Housing schemes set up to encourage home ownership, such as the first home-buyer scheme, raise house prices and encourage more landlordism.

Communist Party of Australia policy on housing is clear. Housing is a human right. In Australia there is no good reason for homelessness or housing stress.  Contrary to popular belief, the CPA is not coming for your family home, but housing, like all property, should be used first and foremost for human needs, not to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Rent freezes and controls are a positive step, but much more is needed. We need to bring back real public housing – in large quantities which can keep rents overall affordable, owned and run by the people. Bringing public housing back is a big ask – even the Greens use the language of “social and affordable” housing, but it’s essential if we want to really improve life for renters.

Communists around the country are campaigning for public housing and for the rights of tenants. Join us.

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