Governments at both federal and state levels continue to rely on the supply of bricks and mortar to solve Australia’s housing issues. We should be focusing not only on how many buildings are supplied, but what those buildings contain – people, trying to make a home.
Governments cannot make homes, but they can both help and hinder their creation. A favourite corner of the room where the afternoon sun shines, the sound of children laughing and clacking toys over floorboards or tiles, or the smells emanating from the kitchen. Governments create none of these.
The draughty window, the mouldy walls, the expensive heating. The rent. The eviction notice. These things hinder people’s ability to create the deep connections we create with our homes. Governments have abdicated responsibility for effectively regulating these elements. By doing so they have cemented the notion of renting as substandard.
Ensuring homes are of a good standard and provide an affordable and reliable base is just as important as ensuring the sufficient supply of buildings.
The evidence suggests that without addressing unstable and unaffordable tenancy models and tax systems which encourage speculative activity in housing stock, increasing housing supply will not put sufficient downward pressure on rents or produce housing with the interests in mind of people who rent.
Due to the unstable and unsatisfactory nature of renting, the demand for every new rental dwelling is largely made up of people who have moved or been moved from a previous rented home.
Tenants are expected to enforce property standards largely on their own, but the instability created by unfair eviction laws means these issues too often remain unresolved.
Housing affordability must measure not only the dollars and cents, but the costs of lost opportunity, community connections, health and happiness.
This year’s Federal Budget did little to address the absence of funding for truly affordable housing, and missed another opportunity to address the tax settings. The state governments have responsibility for the legislation regulating landlord behaviour and none have made concrete progress in the last year.
What has changed, however, is the amount of attention being paid to these issues. Tenancy focused “Make Renting Fair” campaigns in NSW and Victoria have been joined by the city-wide Sydney Alliance and national campaigns such as Everybody’s Home and GetUp’s Future to Fight For. All of these campaigns are calling for the end of unfair “no grounds” evictions, often in addition to other improvements in the renting experience.
In response Labor in Victoria has promised change while in government though not yet delivered. The opposition Labor party in NSW have also committed to ending evictions without a reason. Both states have elections in the next 12 months. To his credit, the current Coalition minister responsible for tenancy law in NSW acknowledged “no grounds evictions, retaliatory evictions, all these things are currently undermining renters’ rights in NSW” but has not yet been able to introduce any change.
Change is coming – governments should race to be seen as the cause, not become the casualty.
Download the PDF of Making Housing Affordable articles posted in May 2017.
Leo Patterson Ross is the Senior Policy Officer at the Tenants’ Union of NSW and leads their team working for a better deal for people who rent their home. He has spent more than a decade assisting renters, their advocates and the broader public understand and navigate the NSW housing system.