When a high rise building in Docklands caught fire last November it put the spotlight on the issue of residential overcrowding. The building was home to hundreds more than it was equipped to take. Recently it was reported that the Melbourne City Council has hired an investigator to look into ‘sophisticated’ rooming house networks, and in March the Sydney City Council set up a team to investigate the same problem. It now looks like there could be up to 80 high rise apartments where landlords are creating makeshift bedrooms in corridors and living areas. In these high rise buildings most of the residents are international students and workers. However, all this is a symptom of a bigger problem that has been with us for a long time – a lack of affordable housing around Australia.
When the situation is that less than one in 200 rental properties in Melbourne is affordable to someone on a Newstart allowance, people are left with few options but to find accommodation in ways that are under regulated and therefore open to exploitation from unscrupulous landlords. And the unaffordability problem also applies to people on Youth Allowance, overseas students who have high tuition fees and people with casual or inconsistent employment.
The answer is to make housing in Australia more affordable. The task is certainly not small and therefore must involve action from all levels of government. CHP proposes a combination of strategies under the umbrella of a National Affordable Housing Strategy (NHAS) that were recently submitted to the ALP’s discussion paper on housing affordability. They range from a resurrection of the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) right through to changes to taxation arrangements that distort the housing market, as well as investment in social and public housing. A National Housing Affordability Strategy would harness the levers that the Federal Government holds in taxation income support and couple that with the State Governments’ ability to deliver improvement in housing on the ground. Full submission can be viewed on CHP’s website.