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It’s beyond time for a fairer deal for renters


by Maiy Azize, Everybody’s Home Campaign Spokesperson

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.

Over the last decade, much has been said about the need to get a fairer deal for renters. There was the Henry Tax Review, which called for tax reforms to make housing cheaper.

Months later Anglicare Australia released its first Rental Affordability Snapshot. It found that most rentals were out of reach for people on low incomes and the minimum wage.

Then it was the OECD. It said that Australia had some of the most expensive housing in the developed world.

By 2019, the Productivity Commission joined the chorus line. It found that renters on low incomes were in severe rental stress.

Fast forward another year. The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute found that Australia had a chronic shortage of affordable rentals for people who need them.

I will spare you the full year‑by‑year list. Needless to say, the past decade has seen inquiries, reviews, and countless organisations beg for change. Study after study, report after report, have made the same call.

Earlier this year Everybody’s Home joined the fray with Priced Out, a report looking at rents for 15 essential worker categories. We found that none of them would be able to afford rent on an average unit in Australia.

Across every region in Australia, we saw the same result. Rents were out of reach for a person working full-time in these essential roles, sometimes by hundreds of dollars. Most would have to spend two-thirds of their income to rent a unit, putting them in severe rental stress.

This helps explain why housing has been a top-tier issue among voters for years —although it can’t explain why it has been absent from the political debate for so long.

Polling released by Everybody’s Home before the 2022 federal election showed how fearful Australians have become about the housing crisis. More than half feel too stretched to meet their current housing commitments. And a staggering 42 per cent are worried about becoming homeless themselves if their circumstances change.

Think about that for a moment. While we lose billions each year subsidising landlords, 42 per cent of Australians fear becoming homeless.

We should be especially concerned about the situation facing older people. Retirees need stable housing more than ever. Yet record numbers of older people, especially women, are becoming homeless.

And with CoreLogic estimating that rents are set to go up by another 10 per cent over the next year, renting as an older person is only getting worse.

What this tells us is that no one is shielded from Australia’s overheated rental market. But if we believe media commentators, the property industry, and many politicians, there is only so much we can do to protect renters. Protecting them from unfair rent increases, we’re told, will somehow make things worse.

Here’s the problem with that argument. The light-touch approach favoured by the industry has been failing renters for decades.

We have gone from being a country where renting was temporary to one where many people will rent for life. In that time, rents have skyrocketed while protections for renters have failed to keep up.

At the same time, governments have stepped away from building social housing, leaving renters on the lowest incomes to the mercy of the private market. We are relying on private landlords to do a job that used to be done by government, with few guard rails or rules to protect people.

The solution is obvious to most Australians, even if the political class has been slow to catch up. They want much more intervention from government.

Later this year, National Cabinet will finally look at the needs of renters and how to protect them. This is a huge opportunity to finally secure the protections that renters have needed for decades 49 —an end to no-cause evictions, real standards for rental homes, and an end to unfair rent increases.

These moves are not revolutionary, and they are popular with Australians. In May, a Guardian Essential Poll showed that 60 per cent of Australians want action on rent increases.

That level of support tells us something. Most Australians know that a fair society is one that responds to need. And they can see that Australia’s housing system has been leaving renters behind for years, excluding them from the opportunities our political leaders like to talk about.

Australia’s renters can’t afford another decade of lost opportunities. With the momentum behind us for change, we need to make the most of this moment and lock in the rights that renters deserve.

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.

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