Less than three percent of rental properties across Australia are affordable for singles earning the $700 minimum wage. But lack of housing stock isn't the problem, according to a report by the Christian nonprofit group Anglicare.
The report puts the blame squarely on a tax system that favours property investors over rental affordability, saying the $1.7 billion spent on public housing and homelessness services isn't enough to offset the $14.85bn lost to negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions.
"There are more than enough houses available and being built to meet Australia's needs in most areas," the report says.
"The problem is that people on low and even moderate incomes are locked out of both affordable renting and home ownership no matter where they live, because of the way the tax system has distorted the market."
Regional areas "failing to offer relief"
Anglicare looked at more than 67,000 rental properties across the country on a March weekend and discovered that people on the minimum wage or government benefits could afford very few of them.
"Making sure everyone has a home should be our first priority. But the reality is that our housing system is failing millions of Australians," says Anglicare director Kasy Chambers.
"Almost all of our major cities have become unaffordable for people on low incomes. But this snapshot also shows that regional areas [are] failing to offer relief."
Minimum earners find 97% of properties out of reach
Aspiring renters at the low end of the income scale would be hard-pressed to find a place at all.
Single people on the minimum wage of $694.90 a week would be able to afford just 2.9% of the 67,000 rental properties.
If a partner is also receiving a government benefit, the outlook is only slightly better: between five and nine percent of the properties would be affordable.
Finding a property was easier for a couple with two children receiving family tax benefits, as they could afford 26% of the properties Anglicare looked at.
Benefit payments aren't enough
The odds of finding a property to rent are even slimmer for people receiving a benefit payment from the government, such as disability support, the Age Pension, the Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance or Newstart.
Single parents with two children receiving the Parenting Payment could afford to rent just 0.79% of places, while couples on the Age Pension could afford 4.43% of them.
Younger generations living off a government payment have the hardest time finding a place to rent. Singles receiving Youth Allowance or Newstart could afford just three of the 67,000 properties across Australia, with none of them based in the cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin or Perth.
"We are calling for an urgent investment in affordable rentals for people in need," says Chambers. "And we need a national plan to make renting fair for a generation of people who might never own their own home."
A national study of the rental market – conducted by CHOICE last year in partnership with the National Association of Tenants' Organisations and National Shelter – found that 83% of renters don't have a fixed-term lease or are on a lease less than 12 months long, and 62% feel they're not in a position to ask for longer term rental security.