26 November 2021

How steepling rents and house prices are crunching the ACT's low to middle income earners

| Ian Bushnell
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Housing development

The housing divide is becoming more pronounced in Canberra as prices and rents soar. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Two reports this week have highlighted the growing housing divide in the ACT, in the rental market, and between renters and homebuyers.

Read as a whole, the findings show a worsening situation for renters paying out more of their income to keep a roof over their heads while facing more competition from the growing number of people being locked out of a white-hot housing market increasingly disconnected from Australian workers’ stalled incomes.

The 2021 Rental Affordability Index shows Canberra is the least affordable city for low-income renters in Australia, while CoreLogic has compared wages data with property values for the past two decades, revealing just how much home prices have outstripped the total change in wages and salaries.

While ACT wages increased 81.5 per cent in the past 20 years, home values in the national capital have grown 224 per cent, exacerbated by a more than 25 per cent gain in the past 12 months.

Canberra’s wage-price gap is the second biggest in the country, behind Tasmania, followed by Victoria and NSW.

House prices and wages

Cumulative growth in Australian wage price index (private and public sectors, original) and CoreLogic Home Value Index (national dwellings, September 2001 to September 2021). Charts: CoreLogic.

Nationally, annual wage growth has been languishing for years and is only just getting back to the decade average of 2.4 per cent. The ABS recorded a 2.2 per cent gain in the year to September.

The market is awash with cheap money feeding demand and inflating prices, but ironically, higher wages growth, along with lower unemployment, are the factors the Reserve Bank is waiting on before moving on interest rates.

The result is many first home buyers are unable to save the 20 per cent deposit needed for a mortgage, or those that do face mortgage stress.

CoreLogic says that in the year to October 2021, a 20 per cent deposit on the median Australian dwelling value has increased by $25,417, to a total of $137,268.

Wage price index and home value index

CoreLogic 20-year growth in Australian WPI (private and pubic sectors, original), and home value index dwellings, September 2001 to September 2021 by state and territory.

In Canberra, the median dwelling value in October was $864,909, requiring a deposit of $173,000, a staggering figure even for the ACT’s relatively well-paid government or government-connected workers.

The consequence is that more are left behind in an already congested rental market, being charged the highest rents in the country.

For those on reasonable incomes, the biggest problem is finding the right property, but for those in the lesser paid sectors such as hospitality and retail, or pensioners on fixed incomes, more than 60 per cent of their income could be going on rent, according to the Rental Affordability Index.

For those on JobSeeker, the share of income is an impossible 113 per cent.

The index shows that for a single pensioner, the figure is 68 per cent, a pensioner couple 51 per cent, and for a single part-time worker parent on benefits, it’s 63 per cent.

It says the ACT is ‘moderately unaffordable’ to the average ACT rental household, although bordering on ‘acceptable’, but low-income households, such as the student sharehouse and hospitality worker household profiles, face particularly unaffordable rents, which are pushed up by the overall high-income earning workforce.

The suburban areas of Gungahlin, Belconnen, Molonglo Valley, Weston Creek, and Tuggeranong have shifted from acceptable to ‘moderately unaffordable’.

The index found the collapse of international tourism and student demand due to the pandemic had meant cheaper rents for one and two-bedroom dwellings, giving singles, couples without children, or small families a bit more breathing space.

However, this has coincided with rising rents for larger dwellings, intensifying pressure on family households that require dwellings of three bedrooms or larger.

New public housing in Dickson. More is required and quickly, says ACTCOSS. Photo: File.

ACTCOSS Acting CEO Craig Wallace said the situation required government intervention, including the full delivery of the ACT Housing Strategy and additional public and community-controlled build-to-rent housing.

“This requires direct investment from the ACT Government and changes to planning to free up more land for affordability and reduce costs and barriers for community housing providers,” he said.

“Our planning system can help increase community confidence in new affordable housing development by ensuring community facilities, infrastructure and transport links are baked in at the design stage.”

Mr Wallace said the Federal Government should commit to funding a national social housing construction program, boost Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and support and extend affordable housing rental incentive programs to generate new supply.

The 2018 ACT Housing Strategy is a 10-year, $100 million commitment that aims to deliver 400 additional public housing dwellings and the renewal of 1000 and 200 community housing homes.

The ACT Government is also pursuing build-to-rent options. It has rejected as simplistic calls for more land releases to help ease price growth, pointing the finger at Federal tax settings.

The index was prepared by SGS Economics and Planning for National Shelter and the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

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Property owners should get no joy from rising property prices because when everyone else’s property price is going up proportionately you are no better off in what you can afford. If you bought an average house for $500k xx years ago and sell for $1m you will find that all other average houses like yours are now $1m and the house you aspire to is $2m. The only way to benefit is to sell in a high priced market and buy into a lower priced market eg move from city to country, or even from one country to another. Rising property values without rising wages make us all poorer when those property values are linked to rising rates, as in Canberra, which has annual rate rises well in excess of price inflation and wage growth. We all pay more in rates out of incomes that are not keeping pace, squeezing family budgets. The other big losers from rising property prices are our children who can’t afford to buy a starter home because land for new suburbs with cheaper housing is not being released by the ACT government. And of course those paying rising rents are also being disadvantaged. It is all connected.

Action, you are only looking at a small subset of the market; those looking to upgrade. Not everyone fits into that category. There are those with multiple investment properties, those reaching retirement and looking to downsize or those that aren’t looking to move any time soon. They all benefit from rising house prices. The reason being that Australia’s per capita wealth relative to the rest of the world increases. So if I am retiring soon and decide to downsize I can unlock a larger proportion of my money to spend in retirement and if I want to travel overseas the buying power of my money would be greater as well.

Even those in the particular situation that you have mentioned benefit indirectly from the wealth effect. It is not necessarily bad that house prices outpace wages because it depends very much on where the prospective buyers are in their stage of life. If you are in your 20s working casual jobs in hospitality you shouldn’t complain about rising house prices outpacing your salary. Because that is assuming you are going to be in that junior role your whole life. In fact, the majority of young people will be promoted into higher paying positions that isn’t reflected in the wage price index. That allows them to borrow more and upsize if necessary. But it is a false view of the world by comparing the grown in the minimum wage to the growth in house prices thinking the two should keep pace.

You are correct Acton, its the vested interests like the financial sector making money on the credit issued and downstream rent seekers like Sam who build wealth from income derived from the ownership, possession or control of scarce assets under conditions of limited or no competition”. Government is responsible for ensuring a lack of competition and incentivizing economic rent seeking via favorable tax treatments. Who are the biggest donors to political parties> 2019-2020 data shows it to be the financial services industry. This puts everyone else in a rat race to afford the ever increasing rents being extracted.

ChrisinTurner7:31 pm 26 Nov 21

What does hand Steepling mean? The hand steeple is performed by placing the fingertips of both hands together, spreading them, and then arching the hands so that the tips of the fingers look like a church steeple. This is a universal display of confidence and is often used by those in a leadership position.

Peter Graves2:38 pm 26 Nov 21

“steepling rents” ? A steeple certainly does go up – but it does come down the other side.

Did you mean “steepening” perhaps ? That’s what the graph is doing.

Roberto Taglienti2:20 pm 26 Nov 21

Sadly this article is meaningless…the Chief minister has already said he won’t introduce policy that will make housing more affordable. It’s about votes not looking after people. He will however throw bone to a handful of people because as a Labor chief minister he has to at least appear to care about the lower income earners……

Australia is long overdue for a commission into house prices and urban planning. There’s no single area of blame for these ridiculous house and rent prices.

Federal government, state and council governments are all to blame for elements of what’s in their control. CGT exemptions for investors, lack of land release, Finance regulations, public housing sell offs, land tax on renters etc.

All Australians deserve a proper investigation into the problem and more equitable housing solutions for both owners, purchases and renters.

IMO the first step would be a cap on the amount of Capital Gains Cap exemption from the Feds and a minimum fixed level of agreed land release for new dwellings from councils.

Martin Silsby12:59 am 26 Nov 21

ACAT being still in a ‘moderation’ stage, as opposed to normal mode where it enforces the law, is also not helping.

It just gives the agent one more opportunity to bamboozle the tenant, with the moderator more interested in getting to his next appointment than protecting the rights of the tenant.

Rent increases should only be approved on application to the Office of Regulatory Service, or a similar body. Landlords should have to demonstrate more than just ‘market prices’ to justify the rent going up. The current arrangement is simply a closed loop of ‘the rent must go up’ to ‘oh, look, the rent went up, therefore the rent must go up’…

“ For those on JobSeeker, the share of income is an impossible 113 per cent.”

The analysis is a complete joke. Are people on the dole entitled to own houses as well?

And why not Sam? How about you explain how it’s better for society to toss people on welfare on the street or why rent seekers like yourself should be allowed to profit from their need for shelter?

No and the article doesn’t suggest they should. But they also should be able to afford to have a roof over their heads.

Something that is made increasingly difficult by government policies promoting investment in the unproductive housing sector when they should be doing the opposite.

Too many literal rent seeker landlords falsely claiming to be providing some sort of public service whilst exploiting those government policies to fatten their own bank balances despite all the negative consequences both to society and the economy as a whole that are caused by unaffordable housing.

Sam – you are a shocker: as shown in your post a couple of months ago – you are the issue here as the Landlord. not a Messiah….

And I quote:

Sam Oak 9:50 am 02 Sep 21
Probably the one good thing that has come out of the pandemic is the amazing investment returns we have had on just about every asset class except fiat currency since March last year.

I would not be able to cope with lockdown at all save for having an expansive garden in the inner north for my kids and dogs to enjoy and watch the birds. The wealth effect from appreciating asset values is the single biggest factor in the road to economic recovery so it is good the government is getting this right as it is supporting hundreds of thousands of middle class families across Australia and creating a stable consumption base when we start shedding these unnecessary lockdowns and live normal lives like much of Europe and North America.

Even a better quote from you……

Sam Oak 6:33 pm 07 Sep 21
I always laugh when others describe housing assets as unproductive. I can’t think of anything more productive than providing a roof over someone’s head. I don’t think removing some of the tax policies relating to housing will improve the situation. Negative gearing and capital gains discount work to encourage housing investment so that renters pay lower rent. Remove it and see what happens to the rental supply here in Canberra. You can count on rents doubling and many poor families driven into homelessness.

Ken, why would you feel the need to quote my opinions back to me? It’s interesting that home ownership was highest in the 1960s and the capital gains tax rate was 0%. The concept of CGT wasn’t even introduced until the 80s.

Australia has the highest per capita household wealth and we are a fair and equal society because ordinary hard working families that are able to live within their means and afford within their means can build that wealth through housing. Property ownership is the single best investment vehicle to build stable wealth over time.

Those that believe if you suddenly tax property more stringently there will be greater equality and capital will be redirected to businesses is kidding themselves. They show a complete lack of understanding of risk in finance. You don’t invest your money in start ups that have 50-50 chance of failing or doubling your money as it is the same expected return as leaving your money under the bed. Without housing, the best risk-return options would be to leave money sitting idling in deposit accounts earning 0.5% interest pa.

Problem is housing was just as unaffordable in the 60s and back then 10 million Australians wanted to live on Sydney harbour. Now 26 million Australians want to live on Sydney harbour and there is only one Sydney harbour.

“Australia has the highest per capita household wealth and we are a fair and equal society because ordinary hard working families that are able to live within their means and afford within their means can build that wealth through housing.”

Except for the fact that the preferential treatment given to housing investment is actually reducing the equality within our society and making it far harder for a growing proportion of society to access an essential part of living, a roof over one’s head.

“Those that believe if you suddenly tax property more stringently there will be greater equality and capital will be redirected to businesses is kidding themselves”

And those who believe this wouldn’t happen have no understanding of economics nor basic investment principles.

“Without housing, the best risk-return options would be to leave money sitting idling in deposit accounts earning 0.5% interest pa.”

In fact, the preferential treatment of housing investment has led to those with absolutely no investment nous at all believing statements like the above. Strangely because they’ve often ridden a wave of luck and deliberate government policy to enrich them despite their ignorance.

“Problem is housing was just as unaffordable in the 60s”

Problem is, on any metric this is simply 100% false.

Chewy, it’s plain for all to see that you are picking and choosing what to comment on to support your own narrative. Property is not preferentially taxed in Australia and nowhere in a comparable developed country in the world is capital taxed at the same rate as income. As I pointed out the capital gains tax rate in the 60s where home ownership was the highest was 0% so since then property has only been taxed more stringently. Maybe these taxes are what has increased prices in the first place. If you removed CGT altogether then potentially more families would be incentivised to become property investors and add more rental supply to the market. This would reduce the problem of high rents in Canberra, no?

“Strangely because they’ve often ridden a wave of luck and deliberate government policy to enrich them despite their ignorance.”
And that’s exactly my point. The ordinary Australian family is not expected to have financial nous which makes property such an accessible and fair investment vehicle. Take a look at countries like the US where wealth inequality in huge in comparison shows what happens when you allow those with financial literacy an advantage over others. The wealth gets concentrated to the top 0.1% of the population.

“If you removed CGT altogether then potentially more families would be incentivised to become property investors and add more rental supply to the market. This would reduce the problem of high rents in Canberra, no”

I agree, no it would not.

“And that’s exactly my point. The ordinary Australian family is not expected to have financial nous which makes property such an accessible and fair investment vehicle. “

Which is why we should remove the advantages it has in the tax system because of the significant increase in wealth to a tiny proportion of the population it has created.

You claim you want a “fair and equitable” system whilst promoting policies that reduce the ability of a large proportion of the population to access essential housing. It’s nonsensical.

“Problem is housing was just as unaffordable in the 60s”.


Sam “it’s just a flesh wound” Oak does it again.

Sam, you are conveniently forgetting that there is a 50% discount on CGT, so saying that it’s taxed at the same rate as income is off, by 50%!

Ken, but the other 50% is usually taxed at the highest tax rate of 45%. Add the fact that normally your deposit to buy the house is from after tax income and you are incurring interest on what you borrow feeding the bank’s net interest margin and you are effectively taxing capital twice which is ridiculous. So I don’t know how anyone can argue property gets preferential treatment in the tax system.

Chewy, two-thirds of the Australian population are home-owners with no financial nous. It proves the opposite of your argument. The majority are wealthy because of property as an investment option. It’s not the majority that is missing out as you believe. They are just stuck up spoilt individuals who don’t understand the meaning of hard work and sacrifice who happen to be the ones complaining the loudest. Setting aside 20% of the population who are happy to rent given their circumstances and you are only left with about 10% of the population falling under your category of not being able to afford a house and those are typically low income casual workers who need to find stable full time employment first before they can dream of home ownership.

A reducing proportion of the population are home owners because of the policies you support.

“The majority are wealthy because of property as an investment option”

No, they really aren’t, your ponzi scheme doesn’t equate to overall wealth generation.

You’re trying to use the fact that a minority of people have exploited the poor government policy direction as a good thing.

We get it. You’ve made some money and don’t like people calling out the ridiculousness of the system.

The top tax rate kicks in at earnings greater than $180,000. Anyone who has received a 50% free capital gain, shouldn’t complain about tax on the remainder. In reality, it equates to a tax rate of 22.5%.
As far as double taxation is concerned, the deposit you paid with after tax income forms part of your original capital and would not be subject to CGT and the after-tax income used to pay the interest which you are complaining that you are being taxed CGT on that as well, you have claimed a tax deduction for that expense.
With respect, for someone who comments regularly on property and tax issues, there appears to be some concepts you struggle with.

Ken, so an effective tax rate of 22.5% on CGT compared to 30% on income is such a big deal? I’m also not talking about the cost base being tax, I’m referring to have to pay stamp duty on the purchase price and rates and land tax EACH year based on artificial valuations that leads to double taxation.

Double taxation?
Stamp Duty, Rates and Land Tax aren’t really double taxation!
In the ACT, Stamp Duty is tax deductible due to our leasehold system (in other jurisdictions it forms part of your capital base and is offset against future capital gains).

I’m not a fan of Land Tax, nor am I a fan of the Government’s escalating Rates strategy that increases Land Tax by 150% of any Rates increase, but that said, those expenses are also tax deductible.

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