Anglicare Australia’s annual Rental Affordability Snapshot released on 30 April by executive director Kasy Chambers shows the private rental market has failed Australians living on low incomes.

On the weekend of April 14 and 15, Anglicare agencies from every State and Territory in Australia conducted a snapshot of advertised private rental properties to test their affordability for two groups of people – households who rely entirely on Government payments, and households that rely on the minimum wage. “Affordability” is classed as spending up to 30% of a low household income on rent.

“What the Snapshot shows is that people on the minimum wage need two incomes to rent a house. In many places even that is not enough,” Ms Chambers said.

“And for those trapped on the NewStart, supporting parent or youth allowance there is absolutely nothing suitable available at all.

“In Perth, there is absolutely nothing available for anyone on a single income, and these results are largely replicated across all our capital cities.

“In our largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, with over 20,000 properties advertised between them less than 40 properties were considered suitable across all of the household types.

“In our regional areas too, housing for families on a low income is virtually non-existent with results like 2% of available properties in the Southern Tablelands in New South Wales for a single parent on the minimum wage or 6% of properties in Gladstone for a family of four.

“Anglicare’s Snapshot gives an insight into the experience of housing stress, makes it clear how distant safe and secure housing is for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Australians, and raises the question of why it isn‟t a true national priority.

“Without a doubt Government benefits such as NewStart and Commonwealth Rent Assistance are too low. That’s widely recognised by economists, social scientists, and anyone who has tried to live on it themselves. But a housing market that also fails people on full time wages points to bigger problems than that.

“We need to grow the supply of community and public housing so that people when they are most vulnerable can find a secure home, and the supply of housing in the private market that they can transition into. We need to construct more housing that is well located and affordable for families living on low incomes and for people living alone.

“The real solutions would come at a cost. We‟d need to reshape negative gearing and tax treatment of the family home to push the balance towards more affordable housing. And we need to find the capital, by investing some of the trillions of dollars we have in superannuation into affordable housing perhaps, as is done in other parts of the world.

“While the cost would be to those who are doing really well out of the property market, the benefits for all of us, economic and social, would be much more than that,” Ms Chambers said.
Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot Report 2012
Executive Summary

The Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot (the Snapshot) is an annual project surveying the affordability of rental properties for people living on a low income in Australia.

Developed by the Social Action Research Centre at Anglicare Tasmania in 2007, the Snapshot was designed to highlight the lived experience of looking for housing whilst on a low income. This is the third year that the Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot has been undertaken at the national level.

For the purposes of this project, an affordable rental is one which took up less than 30% of the household’s income, a commonly used benchmark of affordability. The Snapshot was undertaken on Saturday 14 April 2012. In each locality, Anglicare Australia network members audited local newspapers and real estate websites (nominally unless otherwise stated) for rental accommodation. Nationally, over 65,000 properties were surveyed (n=65,350). Predefined tests of affordability and appropriateness were applied resulting in the number of advertised properties on a given day which were adequate for households living on a low income. For a dwelling to be determined as suitable it must satisfy tests of both affordability and appropriateness.

Over 65,000 properties were audited across 15 localities on the Snapshot weekend. As with 2011, the 2012 results are stark for anyone living on a low income included in which is federal income support and the minimum wage.

High level figures are given below for our capital cities however it can not be overstated that housing affordability is as much a regional issue as it is an urban one.

 Single people living on NewStart, Youth Allowance and Austudy
Perhaps the most concerning finding: there were no options for this group in the majority of locations and where options did exist they were few.
Adelaide (0%), Brisbane (0%), Canberra (0%), Darwin (0%), Melbourne (0%), Perth (0%), Sydney (<1%) Tasmania (0.3%).

 Single people on Disability and the Aged Pension
This group did not fare much better with minimal options present, the majority of which were for single rooms in share housing.
Adelaide (0%), Brisbane (1%), Canberra (0.7%), Darwin (0%), Perth (0.2%), Sydney (<1%) Tasmania (8%).

 Single people on the minimum wage
In many localities the minimum wage proved not to give an advantage when seeking rental accommodation.
Adelaide (2%), Brisbane (4%), Canberra (6.5%), Darwin (1%), Melbourne (0%), Perth (0.7%), Sydney (<1%) Tasmania (18%).

 Single Parents on NewStart
Across the board, astoundingly low options for safe and secure housing dramatically impacts on searching for employment.
Adelaide (0%), Brisbane (0%), Canberra (0%), Darwin (0%), Melbourne (2.1%), Perth (0%), Sydney (<1%) Tasmania (2%).

 Couples on the Aged Pension
Trends indicating a shift in household composition toward couple households is especially worrying for couples on an aged pension as current stocks are not reflective of this composition.
Adelaide (2%), Brisbane (5%), Canberra (0%), Darwin (1%), Perth (0.8%), Sydney (<1%) Tasmania (20%).

 Couples with two children on NewStart
Families on any payments would struggle to secure suitable accommodation on the weekend of the snapshot with significantly reduced options.
Adelaide (2%), Brisbane (0%), Canberra (0%), Darwin (0%), Melbourne (0%), Perth (0.03%), Sydney (<1%) Tasmania (5%).

 Couples with two children on the minimum wage
The results show that this household has the greatest chance in the survey groups of securing affordable and appropriate rental housing, however even those options are limited:
Adelaide (46%), Brisbane (30%), Canberra (1.2%), Darwin (2%), Melbourne (34.7%), Perth (24.4%), Sydney (11%) Tasmania (38%).

Housing (un)affordability is truly a national issue and truly wicked - to use a well-used phrase. This snapshot focuses on those of the Australian population who earn the least income – Commonwealth benefit recipients and minimum wage earners. Estimates put this group at nearly three million households (42.1%) in Australia which includes almost seven million people1 who were likely to be in or at risk of housing stress.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2011. General Social Survey: Summary results. Cat No. 4159.0. ABS: Canberra accessed 26 April 2012,$File/41590_2010.pdf

From public and community housing through subsidised housing and renting right through to home ownership and investment properties, the ongoing lack of affordability in Australia‟s housing market is threatening to splinter the good economic standing that Australia boasts of in the international community. Housing affordability is a wellbeing issue; it is a societal issue; it is a productivity issue; it is an infrastructure issue; and it is a regional issue. No matter which lens you choose to use as your method of scrutinising the future of Australia‟s development: housing is pervasive.

Along with income, affordable housing is one of the few issues that genuinely crosses all sectors and population groups within Australia. It is an issue, though affecting all Australians, which affects our most vulnerable and disadvantaged disproportionately. As it is an issue without border or particular origin, so it must be a battery of interventions that might overcome it.

Policy initiatives need to be comprehensive and include areas where Government has previously been hesitant to tread: Income adequacy, Commonwealth Rent Assistance and the level of Government benefits are areas which impact greatly on an individuals‟ capacity to pay for appropriate accommodation; systemic barriers such as taxation and program funding both inhibit housing affordability and could be used as effective policy levers to broaden access to housing; Cultural barriers like stigma and discrimination need to be addressed to overcome blocks to private rental markets; and infrastructure needs to be developed through such interventions as continued investment from existing programs such as NRAS and from wealthy superannuation funds as is currently underway in South Africa.
Housing affordability is an issue facing all Australians. It hits hardest people living on low incomes such as Government pensions and allowances and even the minimum wage. The Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot has shown that across Australia, people on low incomes are potentially living in housing stress, spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs.

Housing affordability is truly a national issue and is deserving of being a truly national priority. The Federal Government must lead the action with comprehensive strategies matching the length and breadth of this national issue.