SA Labor blasted about its lack of public, affordable housing

March 20, 2023
Protesters demand affordable housing. Photo: Renfrey Clarke

Soaring rents and a lack of housing affordability were protested by more than 100 people outside Parliament House on March 19.

Organised by the South Australian Anti-Poverty Network, the protest was called for the first anniversary of Premier Peter Malinauskas’ Labor government.

South Australian Labor pledged during its campaign to build 400 new public housing units during its first four-year term. This figure has since been raised to 564, with 50 dwellings reserved for people who are currently homeless.

But the number of homeless people in SA is at least 6200 — a years-old figure now widely regarded as far too low. Housing SA, the state’s public housing authority, has a waiting list of 17,000, including 4000 deemed “in urgent need of shelter”.

Anecdotal accounts speak of applicants remaining on the list for as long as nine years. In the face of this need, rally speakers condemned the government’s efforts as token.

Meanwhile, the situation of many low-income renters in South Australia has become dire. In December, a Rental Affordability Index report stated that for JobSeeker recipients, all metropolitan and regional areas of the state were “rated severely or extremely unaffordable”.

Median rents in Tarndanya blew out last year by 12.9%, higher than the national average.

There is little reason to think the rises have slowed since, as the rental vacancy rate in Tarndanya in the final quarter of last year was an almost infinitesimal 0.4%, down from a year earlier and a third of the national figure.

The rental field in SA has thus tilted drastically in favour of property-owners. Speakers on March 19 recounted personal experiences of landlords ruthlessly exploiting this advantage.

For existing tenants, the end of a lease routinely brings demands for huge rent increases. For people looking to rent, finding accommodation means engaging in fierce competition with other hopefuls. Often, it involves engaging in “rental bidding”, offering sums well above the advertised figure.

As numerous placards at the demonstration made plain, the situation requires strong government intervention. Key measures needed include a freeze on rents, stiff taxes on dwellings kept unoccupied and, above all, a massive program of public housing construction.

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