With some of the highest property prices in the world, young people living in Australia’s major cities are struggling to afford skyrocketing rents.
Despite an initial drop when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, rents have risen considerably across the country, increasing 8.3% just this year — the fastest growth since 2008.
Home ownership is not an option for many, especially as median house prices are now close to $1 million. Most young people are unable to save up for a deposit while paying a significant proportion of their income on expensive rents.
Without a high-paying job, or the luck of being born into a wealthy family, millions will be renting for their entire lives.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Income and Housing, home ownership among those aged 25–34 has dropped from 52% to 37% in the past 20 years.
Renters face issues beyond the lack of housing affordability; they include the lack of stability and the prospect of continually moving house; few rights as tenants; and housing conditions that range from inconvenient to unsafe.
Rebecca Bentley, director of the Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Housing, told the ABC on October 22 that as many 1 million people live in housing that harms their health. Poor insulation, damp and mould impacts respiratory health, mental health and raises rates of cardiovascular disease, she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of public health yet so many people live in housing that damages their health.
Housing also has significant effects on climate, with 40% of household power consumption going towards heating and cooling. Many rental properties have very poor insulation and tenants are forced to suffer through the extreme heat of summer and cold nights in winter.
An international study, using data collected over 27 years and published in 2015, showed Australia has a higher death rate due to cold weather compared to Sweden, almost entirely due to poor quality housing.
Australia leads the world in installing rooftop solar power, which is expected to overtake coal-fired power by 2025. The lack of federal and state leadership on installing renewable energy systems means it has been left to the private sector. Renters who would prefer to move away from fossil fuel energy for their cooking and heating are often stuck paying for inefficient appliances and run-down electricity and plumbing systems.
While different states have their own tenancy legislation, they overwhelmingly favour landlords and investors over renters.
Tenants’ organisations are fighting for better conditions for renters and have won some reforms such as protections for pet owners and domestic violence protections. However, these changes can be watered down by governments under pressure from the real estate lobby.
Recent changes to tenancy laws in Queensland include the removal of “eviction without grounds”. However, Tenants Queensland and the Tenants’ Union of New South Wales said that, in practice, landlords will use fixed-term agreements and other loopholes to evict people. The work of these organisations, and other tenancy and public housing collectives, is vital.
Private rents need to be capped at current levels for ten years, and tenants need to have more rights to allow for a safe and ecological home. Tax breaks and concessions that keep house prices high need to be scrapped and, crucially, governments must invest in sustainable public housing to ensure disadvantaged and young people are not locked out of secure housing.
Grassroots pressure is needed to force governments to make housing affordable and to support on-the-ground initiatives led by people who believe that housing is a right.
Green Left will continue to campaign for public housing and renters’ rights and publicise the movements pushing these rights.