Housing affordability continues to be one of the biggest stressors for ordinary Australians. Recent surveys have exposed the financial pressure that many households live with. Around 40% of all households spend their entire income every month.
The bulk of our pay cheques are being spent on housing. Younger people have been largely priced out of the housing market, and the proportion of renters is growing. While wages are stagnant, and Newstart hasn’t been raised in decades, rents and the costs of living are rising.
With more people renting, problems in the private rental sector are being exposed. It’s becoming clearer that the sector offers tenants very little by way of security or quality. It is very much a landlord’s market.
Australian renters have less rights and security than many other renters in advanced capitalist countries. In many countries, renters have the right to request long-term leases, and in some places tenants have forms of rent control.
Those who do manage to scrape together the deposit to buy a home are often mortgaged up to their eyeballs. Mortgages today are higher than ever with Australians enduring the second highest levels of household debt in the world.
Having the sense of stability and security that owning a home brings shouldn’t mean putting ourselves into record levels of debt. This precarious situation for many households means that they could be one job loss or medical emergency away from losing their homes. In fact, homelessness is becoming more visible in many major cities.
In July, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services Luke Howarth tried to dismiss the homelessness crisis by putting a “positive spin” on the situation. But there is no positive spin when it comes to sleeping rough or in an insecure situation.
On any given night there are at least 116,000 people without a home to go to. There was a 20.4% increase in the number of rough sleepers between the census in 2011 to the census in 2016. This is in a country that hasn’t had a recession for nearly 30 years!
Each day, over 236 people who request assistance from specialist homelessness services are not able to be helped. What will happen when the economy takes a turn for the worse?
There is a desperate need for more public housing. There already more than 140,000 people on the public housing waiting lists. About one quarter of those are deemed to be in greatest need but have waited over 12 months to be housed. Some have had to wait for up to 10 years.
Clearly, we have a housing crisis. In order to address this, we need a massive expansion of affordable housing. Even some NGOs say that we need at least 500,000 new affordable homes. Socialists say these homes should be publicly owned and rent controlled.
Tens of thousands more homes would need to be built each year to cater for the growing population. A home building plan like this would not only deal with the social need but it would create thousands of jobs and give the economy a boost. This is the alternative to the rule of the market.
We need to put pressure on governments to make housing more affordable but ultimately the only way to really guarantee affordable housing to people is to take the sector out of private hands.
Why should landlords, developers and the big banks have so much control over how we live? Everyone should have access to high quality, secure, affordable homes that cater for individuals and families of all sizes.
Socialists say that housing should be a basic human right and not just another commodity. Housing should be a public service just as health and education is. Ordinary people should be able to control and manage their own living conditions rather than being dictated to by the needs of private profiteers.
This kind of approach is at odds with the system of capitalism which lives and dies by the rule of the market. We need to fight for a different way of running society, a socialist society that puts people’s needs first.
By Kat Galea