The housing factors creating the perfect storm

Selina Claxton 2019, Housing, News and Media, Opinion Pieces and Public Commentary

Talking Point: The housing factors creating the perfect storm

Margie Law, The Mercury

April 29, 2019

 

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TASMANIA’S housing crisis has been in the news a lot lately.

Actually, it has made the news for many years because this “crisis” has been going on for years. Unfortunately, it has become the normal state of affairs for too many Tasmanians.

For years, Tasmania’s housing trends showed the direction we were heading. Waiting times for public housing going up, not down. Government support for low-income households in private rentals going down, not up. And the number of applicants housed flat-lining.

Every year, Anglicare Tasmania counts the properties listed for rent across the state on one weekend and checks whether they are affordable and appropriate for people on low incomes.

Our Rental Affordability Snapshot released today shows the number listed over the past seven years has dropped from almost 3000 statewide to just 1000 — a 60-per-cent reduction.

Median rents in the South rose 9 per cent in the past year, with $20 to $50 a week increases on average in Hobart city, Kingston, Glenorchy and the Eastern Shore.

For households on the lowest incomes, the increase in rent means less food on the table, turning off the heaters in winter and children going without.

House sale prices are at record highs and more than a third of cheaper rentals are being rented by higher income households.

Everyone is feeling the squeeze to get a roof over their heads.

All these factors have come together like a perfect storm.

No wonder there are 1600 Tasmanians homeless on any one night and more than 3000 households each waiting a year or more for public housing.

For those who either do not have a home or who are about to lose their home (because the owner is choosing to sell, renovate or enter the short-stay accommodation market), there are just not enough properties available — even if they decide to enter rental stress and pay half their income or more on rent.

And the private market will not throw a rescue rope as it is incentivised to make profits, not to deliver affordable homes.

And there you have the crux of the matter. People who own a home and choose to rent it out want to maximise their profits. Where does this leave people whose income severely limits the amount they can pay?

Take Anglicare client Paul for example. He is a young man who lives with his mum in Hobart.

He is ready to move out but can only afford to pay $160-a-week rent because he relies on the Disability Support Pension.

The 30 affordable private rental properties advertised on the Snapshot weekend were all at the other end of the state. If Paul moved there to search for affordable housing, he would have nowhere to live while he was looking, nor the support he needs from family and friends.

He would also have to give up the uni course he is doing that is only available in Hobart.

Paul has teamed up with a mate to look for a house they can rent together, but it has not brought them any closer to finding a property.

“We were told we were in a group of 40 shortlisted for the property out of 120 applications. But we haven’t got an offer of a lease. Even if we cut back on other things so we can pay higher rent, it seems nothing is available for us,” Paul said.

In 2015, the Government released its 10-year Affordable Housing Strategy.

It says its first action plan is on target to help 1600 households into affordable housing.

The second action plan, recently released, aims to help a further 2000 households. Anglicare welcomes the additional crisis accommodation services and land releases planned.

But it is not going to be enough. It will not solve the housing shortage.

University of Tasmania researchers say greater Hobart alone needs 1400 more homes each year.

Anglicare calls on the State Government to radically increase investment in affordable housing.

Repaying our historic housing debt to the Commonwealth, which reduces our housing budget by $16 million each year, should be managed in a way that still allows Tasmanians to be appropriately housed.

We should also be using the money earned from a boom in conveyancing (stamp duty), which came about because of buoyant private property housing sales.

And we need to insist that a percentage of all new building developments include affordable housing.

While Tasmanians couch surf, sleep in cars, camp in tents or go without food and heating to pay the rent, the Government can and must use all policy and budget levers possible. Anything less is failing.