As low interest rates and government incentives fuel another housing boom, fresh data has shone a light on the challenges facing the nation’s most vulnerable.
New figures released by the Productivity Commission on January 20 shows that 50.2 per cent of low-income households renting homes in the private market in 2017-18 were suffering from rental stress – defined as spending more than 30 per cent of gross household income on rent.
The commission said the high rate of rental stress had remained “largely unchanged over the past 10 years” and was putting lower-income earners at greater risk of homelessness.
Labor MP and shadow housing minister Jason Clare told The New Daily the Coalition should have invested more in social housing and had “missed a big opportunity during the recession”.
“They could’ve created a lot of jobs for tradies by building homes for homeless Aussies,” he said.
“That’s what Labor did in the GFC and that is what the Morrison government should’ve done.
“Homelessness has only got worse under this Liberal government, and there’s a real risk that when JobSeeker goes back to $40 a day at the end of March, even more people will be homeless.”
Of the low-income households receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance at the end of June 2020, the Productivity Commission said 55.4 per cent would have experienced rental stress without the support, and 29.4 per cent experienced it even with the support.
The figures were released as part of the commission’s annual review of government services, which also analysed the effectiveness of Australia’s social housing and specialist homelessness services.
It found that in 2019-20 one-third (33.6 per cent) of Australians with an identified need for accommodation were not given it, a figure that was similar to the previous two years (33.8 per cent and 32.7 per cent), but noticeably higher than in 2015-16 (28.7 per cent).
The proportion of people with unmet housing needs was highest in New South Wales (46.9 per cent), followed by Victoria (35.5 per cent), the ACT (35.6 per cent), and Queensland (32 per cent).
The means that 21,790 people had unmet housing needs in NSW, 20,746 people in Victoria, 1192 in the ACT and 9370 in Queensland.
Mission Australia community services executive Ben Carblis said the figures showed Australia’s housing system was in “urgent need of repair and investment”.
“With the severe shortage of social and affordable homes, too many people simply can’t find a safe, secure and affordable home,” Mr Carblis said in a statement.
This leads to people and families facing terrible choices between paying for food, bills, the rent, or even medication and missing out on other essentials.”
Mr Carblis said the federal government should prioritise building 30,000 new social homes under a proposal put forward by the Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA).
Modelling conducted by SGS Economics and Planning on behalf of CHIA last June found that spending $7.7 billion on 30,000 new social homes would have saved 30,000 construction jobs.
The Housing Industry Association said new-home building was on course to fall by 50 per cent before HomeBuilder was announced in June.
But Treasury data released on Wednesday shows that new-home sales in December surged by 91 per cent, with the federal government having approved 75,143 HomeBuilder grants by the end of the year.
The scheme will run until March 31, following an extension in November, though the grant was reduced from $25,000 to $15,000 on January 1.
The raft of government incentives have combined with record-low interest rates to push home lending to new record highs.
The office of Housing Minister Michael Sukkar did not immediately respond to requests for comment.