A $40 a week job seeker payment increases the number of affordable rents across Australia from just four rooms in shared homes to five.
This is according to the Anglicare Rent Affordability Release, Anglicare CEO Kasy Chambers told the National Press Club on Tuesday. Snapshot 2023, released ahead of the federal budget last month, analyzed 46,000 rental properties across Australia, based on whether rent would cost more than 30% of the household budget for various low-income families.
Chambers was speaking as part of a panel on housing affordability in regional Australia. She said when Anglicare started offering rental rates 10 years ago, there was a belief that regional areas were affordable.
“It wasn’t the truth then, and it certainly isn’t now,” she said.
Some areas are worse off than others: in central Queensland, she said, only nine of the 397 rental listings analyzed in the report were affordable for a couple with two children both living with a job seeker, and on the NSW North Coast, only 8% of rental listings It was affordable for a couple who had two children and both worked full-time minimum-wage jobs.
“We don’t see affordable housing in the regions anymore,” she said. “You are effectively buying the number of jobs available at the rental or mortgage price.”
Chambers said higher rents in regional areas have had ripple effects on other services such as aged care, as retirees who live in private rentals decide to move into residential aged care facilities earlier than they otherwise would because they can’t keep up with the rent.
It advocated a return to fully publicly funded social and affordable housing, rather than relying on private sector and schemes such as passive easing, capital gains tax concessions, and Commonwealth rent assistance.
“We now spend more per capita Commonwealth dollars on these three payments than we have on housing, yet housing affordability has never been lower,” she said. “Anyone can see that this approach has failed.”
Anna Nilagama, CEO of the Australian Property Institute, and Independent MP for Indy, Helen Haines, were also among the panelists.
House prices and rent issues in regional Australia have eased since 2021 and are now back to pre-pandemic levels, Nilagama said, but that has not led to an increase in the number of affordable rentals available.
She suggested that the federal government use part of the $60 million earmarked under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement to pay local governments to write to taxpayers in an effort to restore “empty or dormant homes” in the permanent rental complex.
“Eurobodalla shire on the south coast have done just that and have successfully returned 18 new properties to their rental pool,” she said.
Nilagama also proposed a review of land and houses owned by the state and territory governments, to free any houses of police or teachers that were free from government-owned land that were land-owned and undeveloped.
She suggested that Australia should also consider prefabricated or modular homes – “any homes we can get on the ground quickly” – as a way to house key workers.
Haines said there had been a 67% increase in the number of homeless people in Wangaratta, a Victorian regional service town in the heart of its constituents, since 2016. She described encountering a man she called Richard who was using a shower unit in a public space. Bless and live in a tent after a relationship breakdown and mental health challenges. He is a qualified chef in a tourism-dependent area where hospitality workers are in high demand, but his housing situation has made finding a job “absolutely impossible”.
“The lack of affordable housing in Indy has ripple economic effects,” Haines said. “When I talk to an employer, they tell me they are unable to fill vacancies because people can’t find a place to live.”