Fighting campaign needed to win affordable housing


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The situation facing renters continues to look grim. Unaffordable prices, long commute times to work and a general lack of security are the biggest issues facing tenants today.

Recent figures from a Productivity Commission report confirmed that the failure of governments to build public and social housing has led to a situation where there are more people renting from private landlords than ever before.

Renters now make up a quarter of all households. Couples with children are the fastest growing group of renters, with home ownership now out of reach for many. A shift in how renters are treated is necessary, with more and more people looking at being renters for life.

Questions are being raised about how “generation rent” will be able to afford retirement without the equity of their own home.

The laws governing the private rental sector have been designed for the benefit of landlords. Two years ago, the Andrews Labor government in Victoria claimed that reforms were coming, but the very minor changes proposed still haven’t been implemented.

Andrews promised to get rid of ‘no specified reason’ notices-to-vacate on periodic leases, to bring in the automatic release of bonds, enact a ban on rental bidding and give tenants the right to keep a pet (although still needing written permission from a landlord).

Andrews touted these changes as the biggest changes in Victoria’s history, but they do precious little to improve the situation for renters in a meaningful way. As the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) said at the time, these measures do not even include minimum standards for accommodation.

A recent survey showed that three-quarters of renters avoided reporting problems with their properties for fear of rent increases or eviction. Australia falls far behind many other advanced countries where renters have more rights on this front.

By far the biggest issue facing tenants though is the high cost of rent. The Productivity Commission report revealed that half of all renters are paying more than 30% of their income in rent – putting them under financial stress – for at least four years.

A quarter of low-income households spend more than half their income on rent, and a further 7% spend three quarters of their entire income!

The commissioner himself pointed to the need for more public housing to be built, as well as a “wider discussion on the adequacy of income-support payments.”

In order to find the cheapest rentals, people generally need to live more than 40 kilometers from the nearest capital city. The ABC’s Australia Talks survey revealed that most people are unhappy with their commute times, with some travelling up to 2 hours each way!

This points to the need for urgent investment into public housing to be coupled with the expansion of public transport networks to ensure they reach all suburbs.

Unfortunately, Labor’s weak rental reforms do nothing to address the key issue of housing affordability. In fact, far from investing in more public housing, the government is selling off several public housing estates as well as dozens of parcels of public land. This land could be used to build the hundreds of thousands of new homes that are required!

Around the world, from Germany to the United States, renters are coming together to fight for affordable housing and more rights. In some places, victories including rent controls have been won on the back of community campaigns.

These sorts of campaigns are also needed in Australia. It is clear that we cannot rely on either Labor or the Liberals to deliver affordable housing. Both are financed by and represent the real estate lobby.

In order to win real reforms, we need to build a fighting housing campaign that can force change on the powers that be. That is what Socialist Action is trying to do with our Renters Fightback campaign.

We call for:

-Rent control – Cap private rents at 20% of income to stop landlords charging exorbitant prices. Affordable housing for all!
-High quality homes – For landlords to be forced to maintain rental properties at a high standard. Decent homes for all!
-Long-term leases – For the right of residents to demand long-term security of tenure, including infinite leases. Secure housing for all!
-Expand public housing – For the government to build and acquire 500,000 homes Australia-wide for people on low and average incomes. Let’s end the rule of profit. Housing should be a basic right!

By Kat Galea

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