“The lack of affordable housing in Australia remains our biggest problem”, a survey by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) revealed in August. 81% of housing and homeless services have been unable to meet increased demand, and have forced more than 20,000 people away who sought their help. The ACOSS survey highlights the desperate situation ordinary people face today: the struggle to pay rent, a mortgage and buy a home.
The ACOSS survey follows the release of the third Council of Australian Government (COAG) report into housing affordability in July. Its findings were similarly damning. Since 2007 rental affordability has worsened. 42% of Australian’s experience rent stress – defined by the report as rent higher than 30% of gross household income. Alarmingly, 61% of Australia’s lowest income earners experience rent stress. This is up 10% since 2007.
Housing has become less affordable in all capital cities. The average price of an Australian house is $459,000. Brisbane joins Sydney and Melbourne as Australia’s most unaffordable cities. The COAG report also found “the gap between housing supply and demand had doubled to nearly 187,000 since 2008”. New South Wales is the state with the largest gap of 74,000, Queensland is a close second.
Rent stress is often forcing families into debt and even bankruptcy. Ordinary people should not have to worry about putting a roof over their heads. Housing should be considered a basic right, not a luxury.
One way to address the lack of affordable housing is to increase investment in public housing. Not only would the expansion of public housing reduce waiting lists – in Victoria, the waiting list is around 40,000 – but it would create thousands of jobs in construction and help lower the cost of private rents.
There is nothing stopping State and Federal governments from building high quality public housing, including family homes and student accommodation, in properly planned communities to cater to the needs of residents. However in contrast to this various State government’s around the country are in fact reducing investment in public housing and selling off their stock.
In Victoria for example the Baillieu Government is looking in to “private investment or philanthropic investment” rather than increasing public investment. In New South Wales the government has already announced public housing rent increases of $84.50 per year. This will be a huge burden on low income earners.
Similarly in Queensland, the government there has cut an estimated $300,000 worth of funding to 40 public housing support programs across the state. The trend is for State governments across Australia to decrease investment in public housing and leave the construction of new homes in the hands of private developers whose only concern is making profit.
Only by ending the rule of profit in the housing sector and by introducing a plan to expand and improve public housing could we ensure everyone has access to an affordable and quality home. Money for such a programme could be found if the big four banks were brought into public ownership. This would free up billions of dollars that could be invested in the sector.
By Conor Flynn