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Affordable housing

An economic problem that affects us all

June 2019

One of the most disturbing pieces of research I've seen this year is the Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot. Now in its tenth year, this study surveys around 70,000 rental listings across the country in a single weekend. 

The key question it seeks to answer is whether there are properties available to rent at prices that people on low incomes can afford. This year's report found no properties in a capital city that were affordable for a single person on Newstart or Youth Allowance. There were only two properties outside capitals that were affordable on these payments. 

Even working people were in trouble with only two percent of listings affordable for a single person living on the minimum wage. 

This explains what CHOICE found in our 2018 research on the experience of renters in the private market. Our report found that 51% of renters were living in a property in need of repairs with problems like mould, broken locks and inadequate insulation common. Nearly half of respondents were concerned that asking for a repair could lead to eviction, with even more fearing it could lead to a rent rise. 

This points to the need for some big changes in the way our governments think about housing policy. 

Firstly, we need to stimulate greater supply of affordable housing not just public or community housing but properties in the private rental market that are genuinely affordable for people on low incomes. 

Secondly, we need to make sure that renters have good basic rights. While a few states have reformed their tenancy laws in recent years, we don't have a consistent view on the minimum standards of housing that tenants should be able to expect. Nor do we have good systems for resolving disputes between tenants and landlords, which is bad for both parties. 

But most of all, we need a coordinated approach to housing policy. Although our governments have signed up to a national agreement on affordable housing, it has a narrow focus, doing little to address supply of affordable housing, the best use of tax incentives, or tenants rights. 

Part of the problem is that affordable housing has traditionally been seen as a welfare problem something that wont affect most people. But our research increasingly shows that housing is an economic problem. Stable housing allows kids to have a stable education, parents to participate in the workforce and older people to age in better health. 

Ensuring that people have access to safe, stable and affordable housing is fundamental to our future prosperity.

Alan Kirkland, CHOICE CEO
Email: alan@choice.com.au
Twitter: @AlanKirkland

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