My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today, 8 May 2018

by ray goodlass

The un-affordability of rental properties needs political action now

Last week’s news that statistics showed an alarming long-term shortage of affordable rental properties for low-income families in Wagga reflected the data from metropolitan centres, showing clearly that this is not just a problem confined to major cities.

“The figures, compiled by Anglicare, analysed 319 Wagga properties available for lease in terms of their affordability and the number of family members they could accommodate” reported DA journalist Claudia Farhart.

The data makes worrying reading. Anglicare’s research could not find even one property available for rent in Wagga for young people relying on Centrelink payments such as Youth Allowance or Newstart. That might be acceptable, I hear some readers chorus, for those who haven’t yet left the family nest, but many, possibly most, might well be of an age when they should be independent of their parents.

As the income and possibly the age level rises the news unfortunately isn’t any better. A single working person earning the minimum wage would find only 20 properties available for rent in Wagga.

It doesn’t improve for a single parent of two on a parenting payment, with only seven properties available, and for a single parent of two children employed on the minimum-wage and receiving the government’s Family Tax Benefit, there were only 33 suitable properties available in the city, which made up 10 per cent of the rental market.

The DA reported Anglicare Regional Manager for the Riverina Brad Addison saying that this is nothing new, “Seeing no improvement in the housing situation over the last several years is devastating news for vulnerable families in Wagga.” Mr Addison called on the government to implement housing reform instead of letting the burden fall to non-profit organisations.

He’s right of course, but surely charities are no solution. Indeed, it’s a sign that something in our socio-economic system is awry and that it needs fixing.

Unfortunately it seems that most politicians don’t see the need for urgent action, or indeed, any action at all. We didn’t hear a peep from the Deputy Prime Minister and our very own local member, Michael McCormack, did we?

Thankfully though not all pollies are asleep at the wheel. The Greens, for example, are working to build more social housing and strengthen renters’ rights, said Australian Greens spokesperson for Housing, Senator Lee Rhiannon, and Greens NSW spokesperson for Housing, Jenny Leong MP.

Senator Lee Rhiannon said, “It’s time to fundamentally shift Australia’s housing away from a for-profit system towards recognising housing as human right and providing homes for all.

“The Greens plan for a Federal Housing Trust would build 500,000 social homes will guarantee affordability by charging rent as a proportion of income.

“With only 6% of rental properties being affordable to people on income support payments nationwide, it’s clear that we need to fund and build a bigger social housing program,” said Senator Rhiannon.

Jenny Leong MP said, “We also need to strengthen rights for renters in the private market.
“The Greens are working to end ‘no grounds’ evictions to give renters more security. We’ll also put a cap on the amount and frequency of rent rises to ensure renters aren’t exploited for excessive profit.”

The Anglicare data makes it quite clear that this is a crisis needing an immediate political solution. It provides a big opportunity for the NSW parliament to end these injustices and give all renters some dignity and security in their homes, which is a much better idea than blowing the $2 billion you were prepared to spend on new and totally unnecessary sports stadiums.