In the thick of a housing crisis, Australians are reckoning with record-high rent increases, which on average saw renters pay $3,000 more for shelter last year than they did the year before. Now, the Greens say the government should freeze rents nationwide.
According to new analysis commissioned by the party from the parliamentary library, Australia could have saved $7.1 billion had the former Morrison government frozen rents 12 months ago. Since then, rents have jumped close to 14 percent, the analysis found.
Reports of Australia’s housing crisis grow more stark by the day. The outskirts of major cities around the country are now laden with tents, where young families have had no choice but to brave the elements of an unrelenting winter with nothing but a layer of polyester to protect them. In far-north Queensland, the emergency housing shortage is so acute that welfare agencies have begun handing out tents to those unable to find shelter.
Elsewhere, Australians are living in their cars, and consider themselves lucky, while others have found themselves living week-to-week in caravan parks, paying metropolitan rents, and consider themselves luckier still.
Greens MP and spokesperson for housing and homelessness, Max Chandler-Mather, said a rent freeze could give Australians immediate cost of living relief by carving thousands out of their expenses. In more extreme cases, it could save families from homelessness.
“Rents are out of control, millions of Australians are struggling to pay the rent, and families are facing living in tents and cars because they can’t afford record rent increases,” Chandler-Mather said in a statement on Thursday.
“When Australian renters have paid an extra $7 billion in rent over the last year alone, no wonder so many are struggling.”
The Greens have been trying to drum up support for a two-year national rent freeze, which would be followed by ongoing price caps and an end to no-grounds evictions, along with minimum standards for rental properties and new rights for tenants that allow them to make minor improvements to their homes.
“Along with a major and immediate investment in social housing, phasing out negative gearing and capital gains discounts, and a two year rent freeze, followed by ongoing rent caps will help stop this housing crisis boiling over into a national disaster,” Chandler-Mather said.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the wait list for those seeking social housing grew by 8,000 households last year, up from 155,141 to 163,508, while the latest available census figures from 2016 counted more than 116,000 Australians experiencing homelessness.
As it stands, the government has committed to spend $10 billion on 20,000 new social housing properties across the country over the next five years, along with 10,000 affordable homes for frontline workers, like police, nurses and cleaners, who have for the most part been priced out of the areas where they work.
Even still, that would leave more than 130,000 Australians in the lurch, while those in the private market find themselves being priced out, too.
After the Reserve Bank of Australia increased the interest rate for the fifth month in a row in early September, matters are only expected to worsen for low-income renters, as landlords start to pass the increase on to tenants.
“Renters represent a growing cohort. Once a route to homeownership, private rental is now a tenure destination,” said Dr Megan Nethercote, a senior research fellow at RMIT, last week.
“Renters deserve homes that are affordable, provide adequate security of tenure, are well-maintained and have appropriate provisions for tenant representation. Meeting these needs requires strong national leadership on housing; they warrant serious deliberation within a new national housing agenda.”
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