The ACT needs a $100 million public investment in community and public housing to deal with skyrocketing rents and one of the tightest rental markets in the country, according to the ACT Council of Social Services.
It may be good news for landlords but the latest figures from the Domain Rent Report show the cost of renting a house in Canberra has spiked eight per cent in a year, and is now the third highest in the country behind Darwin and Sydney.
The median cost of renting a house in Canberra was $540 a week in December, up from $500 a year earlier, while apartments at $430 a week were second only to Sydney ($545).
Darwin and Sydney house rents were $550 a week but little changed over the year in contrast to Canberra, which is now entering its most difficult time of the year for tenants as workers move to the capital for new positions and students scramble for accommodation.
ACTCOSS Acting Director Craig Wallace said that in a city with a sustained building boom, the affordable rentals crisis was a market failure that needed Government intervention.
“We are encouraged by the Government’s commitment during the election to an affordable housing strategy, but we have been quite open about our disappointment that the last budget did not contain more significant investments in that strategy,” he said.
He said the strategy needed some ‘meat on the bones’ and at least $100 million as a centrepiece to make a dent in the problem, as well as a dedicated land release pipeline for affordable housing to make sure there is a mix of affordable and other housing in new developments including some of the multi-purpose and medium density areas.
“More high-rise apartment blocks going up doesn’t mean that there is more affordable housing,” he said.
There also needed to be continued investment in public housing to provide for a fallback for low-income people.
“Budgets are all about choices and the choices here are whether we can continue to sustain a drag on the economy that we are experiencing from a lack of affordable housing,” Mr Wallace said.
He said people spending more on rent meant less consumption of other things that drive the services industry and jobs. Some were choosing to live outside Canberra and commute considerable distances to work.
“This is about the kind of choices we want to make as a city – whether we want sustainable houses for people to live in order to drive jobs and growth,” Mr Wallace said.
The ACT Property Council Executive Director Adina Cirson said the latest ANZ Property Survey showed more housing supply was on the way in 2018, which should make some impression on Canberra’s very tight vacancy rate of 1.8 per cent.
But she acknowledged that for many people on incomes just above the public housing cut-off, the community housing model was required and the ball was in the Government’s court to enable providers to fill that demand in Canberra.
She said the Government could offer discounted land to community housing providers and allocate extra resources to speed up planning approvals to increase affordable housing.
“The Government has that at its disposal. They can determine that price and provide some discount to community housing providers who are ready and waiting to fill the demand in that area particularly just above the public housing cut-off,” Ms Cirson said.
She said increases in taxes and charges were inevitably passed on to consumers so any relief in this area would also assist community housing developments.
The Property Council also supported residential zoning changes to make it easier for older Canberrans to downsize and convert their properties to dual occupancies to increase housing stock and choice in inner areas.
The Government needed to look at where infill was needed and make sure the settings were right so there is development in the right spot at the right price.
Ms Cirson said those in need of affordable housing were often the people keeping the city running and it was important that they were not pushed out to the fringes.
“People need to be located close to transport, shops and where they can study. It’s no good just pushing the most vulnerable out to the edges of the city because it is counter-productive,” he said.
The property industry, business and welfare groups delivered a joint submission late last year to the Government on housing affordability.
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