18 February 2021

Rental crisis deepens as new workers flood already tight market

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation
Aerial View, Drone, Weston Creek, Houses

Canberra’s market continues to tighten, and rents keep rising. Photo: File.

A flood of professionals taking up work in the national capital is putting the squeeze on the Canberra rental market, sparking unofficial bidding wars from desperate prospective tenants and hiking rents to record levels.

It is also putting more people at risk of homelessness, and pushing more into housing stress, according to the ACT Council of Social Services, which is calling for a significant boost to affordable housing supply.

READ ALSO Are we setting the bar for a ‘good’ life too low?

The latest data from SQM Research shows the ACT’s vacancy rate tightened further in January to 0.8 per cent from 1.1 per cent the month before, and average rents are again the highest in the country.

The number of vacancies in January 2020 has almost halved for the same period this year, down from 947 to 579.

Weekly rents to 12 February for the few houses available have risen 2.8 per cent to an average of $672, while the more plentiful units went up 2.7 per cent to be closer to breaching the $500 mark at $489.

This represents increases over the 12 months of 6 per cent for houses and 5.2 per cent for units.

Vacancy and vacancy rates

SQM Research vacancy and vacancy rates across Australia. Image: SQM Research.

As expected, the outer suburbs offer the cheapest rents with Tuggeranong the lowest average unit at $473, Belconnen $475 and Gungahlin $481.

Belconnen and Tuggeranong are the only districts with average house rents under $600, at $582 and $598.

The Inner North is the most expensive area to rent in Canberra with houses at $836, and units at $586. Across the lake, the Inner South is a little cheaper at $737 and $520.

The second most expensive area for houses is the Woden Valley, with a weekly average rent of $741, while units are now just over $500 at $501.

In nearby Weston Creek, landlords are asking $689 for houses, and $496 for units.

General manager of property management at Independent Grace Hooper said the company has about 3500 properties under management, but the vacancy rate was only 0.13 per cent.

“It’s just crazy,” she said.

Ms Hooper said professionals and graduates were relocating to Canberra this year in numbers not seen for many years, and not just for the public service.

READ ALSO ARIA award winner Katie Noonan to put new lilt on National Folk Festival

Open homes were attracting groups of between 10 to 20, but in a sign that supply was tight, many are returning after failing to secure a property.

She confirmed that many were also offering to pay more than the asking price, although owners were encouraged to choose tenants who were the right fit for their property.

A screenshot from a website where tenants apply for rental properties sent to Region Media shows recent applications in Lyneham, with a three-bedroom house advertised at $700 a week, attracting offers of $750 and $780.

Ms Hooper said situations such as the latest Melbourne lockdown were likely to drive even more people to what may be considered safe locations.

“We have been so sheltered in Canberra in comparison, it is starting to look like a good option. From what I hear, Brisbane is the same,” she said.

Weekly rents index

Weekly rents index. Image: SQM Research.

ACT Council of Social Services policy manager Craig Wallace believes any rush to Canberra will accelerate what was already an existing problem of low to middle-income people being priced out of the rental market.

He said there were already 9500 people in rental stress, in which they cannot maintain rental payments without spending more than a third of their income and compromising on other things such as food and clothing.

While more government spending on homelessness services in the Budget was welcome, what was really required was a significant influx of affordable supply in Canberra, beyond the amount already promised.

“So we can’t just keep putting Band-Aids on a bad situation and hope it will get better by itself,” Mr Wallace said.

“We need not just hundreds of homes as committed to in the [government’s] housing strategy, we need thousands of new affordable dwellings if we aren’t to see larger groups of people slipping into homelessness and even ending up as rough sleepers on Canberra streets.”

He said more land needed to be released to construct public, social and community housing at a scale that would take some of the pressure off the market.

“People are only two or three steps away from the abyss, and because our prices are really really high there are even two-income households with no children on basic wages who you would assume would be relatively secure and comfortable but aren’t. They cant afford to miss a paycheque,” Mr Wallace said.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

There would be far more stock of rental properties if their was no land tax. Check out the cost of that on a rental property in the ACT. Pretty simple really get rid of the ‘rental’ land tax and drop prices by a minimum 20%

Scott Anthony12:24 am 18 Feb 21

When the Libs went to the election saying that the Labor / Greens would ‘Triple Rates’ people just scoffed…

Guess its not so funny now that we’re only HALF WAY THROUGH the massive rates hikes huh..?

Socialism is fun until you realize that you have to pay for your own welfare through massive taxes….

How many people beyond the labor politicians ‘scoffed’. The modelling was always pretty clear on what the likely impacts would be – again, I don’t think in that case it was ever a case of there not being enough transperancy.

The failure of the Libs was that that was all they went to the election in question with….. its been shown multiple times that, rightly or wrongly, the ACT electorate doesn’t respond well to the old scare tactics campaign approach. Was shown again last year – stunts and ‘ooooo evil’ statements won’t substitute for actually well developed policy positions in the Territory.

The libs would have romped it in last year had they presented a genuine, alternative policy position on a number of issues. Instead they run with stunts and scare campaigns, but wouldn’t fill any of the gaps when asked ‘how would you achieve that’ (for instance freezing rates). Hopefully Lee will recognise the need for a sophisticated approach in the ACT enivronment.

And on the question of ‘massive taxes’ – plenty of studies out there show there is not necessarily a strong correlation between a level of taxation and happiness, in either direction. Its about how the money is spent and what is provided that ultimately strongly determines the response in the community. Plenty of low taxing countries where a large amount of people are very unhappy, plenty of high taxing countries where a lot of people are happy. Likewise, the opposite also can apply.

And you truly need to do a bit of study if you think the ACT is anything like approaching socialism with its broad suite of policies. Absolutely nowhere near it, despite being a left leaning policy agenda.

Goose comment that one. Raising rates just exacerbates an already high cost market. It’s simple economics.

HiddenDragon8:48 pm 17 Feb 21

A Labor government which would rather subsidise electric vehicles and extend an expensive light rail network, instead of doing all it can to avoid homelessness in this town, has strayed a long way from this –

“I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. ……..

If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labor movement will be completely justified.”

[Ben Chifley, June 1949 – the “Light on the Hill” speech to the NSW Labor Conference]

Capital Retro10:13 am 18 Feb 21

Ben Chifley will be cancelled because he was the driver of an evil coal powered locomotive before he became PM.

Hopefully some on here will be cancelled for taking too much offence to everything. Seriously CR, your attempts at hyperbole are truly laughable.

Capital Retro9:43 am 19 Feb 21

Well, you don’t expect an intelligent contributor like me to take this woke stuff seriously, do you?

What are you doing CR? Trying to change the use of a word. I see its a trend in some of the nuts out there to try and use ‘woke’ to describe something completely different to what its meaning is. I thought you hated when that happened? 😛

Capital Retro6:11 pm 19 Feb 21

I didn’t invent the word woke or change its meaning. It sounds a strange word to use to describe deluded progressives but you are doing well at keeping that tradition alive.

Capital Retro10:26 am 17 Feb 21

And with no stamp duty relief for retired people to downsize. We have been milked by this government on stamp duty and they will do it till we die. We will soon envy the homeless.

So this is just a figment of the imagination then (noting its fairly targeted and may not be a particularly good policy – but it does extist): https://www.revenue.act.gov.au/home-buyer-assistance/pensioner-duty-concession

Capital Retro,
Good to see that you’re on board with the government’s taxation reform to remove stamp duty for everyone.

Well done.

Capital Retro4:21 pm 17 Feb 21

I doesn’t exist anymore JS9. It’s been “re-invented” as this:


And it only applies to aged pensioners etc. Anyone who was stupid enough to self-fund their retirement gets nothing.

Capital Retro4:24 pm 17 Feb 21

I must have missed that so please tell me when will apply to the circumstances I have referred to, namely downsizing.

Capital Retro,
By removing stamp duty, the government’s reforms make it far easier to downsize because it removes the cost hurdle of stamp duty.

Stamp duty prevents people from moving because you have to pay it every time you do.

So good to have you on board as a supporter of the government’s tax reform package. You clearly want them to move quickly to finish the reform.

Capital Retro5:14 pm 18 Feb 21

Perhaps you can explain to me why current home purchase stamp duty policy is to exempt first home buyers and assess last home buyers AKA end of life retired people wanting to downsize.

Capital Retro,
As above, you clearly want the government to get on and finish the reform to remove stamp duty for everyone entirely.

And you clearly wouldn’t complain about the rate rises needed to achieve it correct?

As for why they would only provide concessions to age pensioners, I don’t know. Could it be perhaps that people with millions in assets don’t actually need a taxpayer funded handout supplied by people far poorer than themselves?

Capital Retro the first home buyer concessions are a form of concession. Are you saying you too want a concession which is another term for wealfare?

And think the point that Chewy is making is if you wanted to downsize you are already benefiting from reduced stamp duty (of course not to the extent as first home buyers) and that you will benifit in the future.

The key difference between what you are asking for and what is being delivered is the delivered policy helps anyone move, which includes downsizing by reducing one of the largest costs of doing that.

Capital Retro9:50 pm 18 Feb 21

I don’t have “millions in assets” but I have already paid considerable amounts of stamp duty on the two homes I have in Canberra. Both were owner occupied residences.

I am assuming you are referring to people who are supposedly poorer than I as being the first home buyers who are not only cosseted by zero stamp duty but some get other concessions and a record low interest rate. Many like me at the end of a working life don’t have an income, only a pension. The “poor” people do have an income and a future.

Where is the social equity in that? We know what side of politics you are one and you hide behind class warfare to justify it.

And how can one “complain about rate rises” when the full rates have to be paid first?

Capital Retro,
A couple can receive a pension whilst having a house of unlimited value and up to $880k in other assets.

For a single, its a house of unlimited value and $580k

So if you aren’t receiving an aged pension from the government, you either have more assets outside of a house than that or are not structuring your finances to maximise benefits.

Either that or you’re lying of course.

Capital Retro8:11 am 19 Feb 21

Downsizing means moving to a smaller place, to eliminate stairs and other hazards for aged people. Also, less maintenance and a smaller garden etc. Ideally, this would be a single level townhouse but because the government’s building policies favour high rise or in the case of town houses, multi level, it is next to impossible to get what is required.

Indeed, I did find one that suited but it was going to cost more that what I would sell my existing stand-alone house for so stamp duty actually was increasing which blows your theory out of the water JC.

The government is always banging on about discounts for seniors and they do throw a few crumbs our way in the form of paltry concessions. How about they give a substantial seniors discount on stamp duty for downsizers and their ongoing rates? It would only be for a few years.

Also, if you want to call it welfare OK, but it’s a two way street so that means new home buyers would be getting “welfare” too which somehow seems incongruous.

Yes first home owners are getting benefits of low interest rates CR, but that is offset by the fact house prices are relatively high in terms of upfront purchase price compared to previous times. So to some degree they equal themselves out.

Not sure if there’s something else I’m missing, but the ACT Government webpage says the downsizing Stamp Duty reduction only applies to properties worth less than $570k.

How many houses in Canberra are worth less than $570k?

How many Canberrans have successfully applied and received a discount? and what has been the total in payments made?

It will probably end up like some of the other ACT Government schemes that when audited or reviewed, have only actually helped a very small handful of people.

Such as the landlord scheme that had Less than 100 people sign up, the poor take up for the affordable dwellings program or the land rent scheme that had a scathing review by the auditor general.

Capital Retro3:48 pm 20 Feb 21

I am aware of that chewy14 but unlike you I choose to be self-funded in retirement. I could “re-arrange” my finances (it’s a national sport hear in Canberra, you know) and get the aged pension but that would involve cheating and lying and that isn’t my style.

You are like so many people I have met in Canberra – very quick to critisize people with my ethics – I save the government at least $50K a year – but very slow to acknowledge that you are probably on a taxpayer funded pension that you haven’t contributed a cent to. You are probably also one of the people who whine because it is taxable income to you.

I suppose I can’t critisize you for supporting the side that supports you. Self-interest is a very strong emotion.

Capital Retro4:18 pm 20 Feb 21

Are you talking about the “deferment scheme” because the full concession scheme was withdrawn.

Are you also aware that there is no stamp duty payable on a “replacement” home purchase by a displaced partner following a dissolution of marriage (or similar arrangement recognized by the Courts)?

I’m only quoting from an ACT Government web page. The way they mismanage their websites, who knows which is relevant or not.

It did say 2020-21 however, next to the figures I quoted.

Capital Retro,
What are you on about now?

You clearly own a house as you’re apparently looking to downsize. You have more assets than the test limits because you aren’t receiving an aged pension, although I don’t know where you’ve pulled saving the government $50k from.

And laughably now you are claiming to have superior ethics by not receiving a welfare payment whilst at the same time complaining that the government won’t give you welfare in the form of a stamp duty concession. Ironic.

And how exactly is it cheating or lying to receive the aged pension under the rules that the government sets out? Your claim doesn’t make sense.

As for me, i’m nowhere near pension age, I’m not receiving any welfare payments and almost certainly never will because of my income level and assets. What were you saying again?

Stamp duty concessions are great ones offs but high rates last forever. Saving the stamp duty is a poor long term financial decision compared to a lifetime of higher rates.

Capital Retro11:58 am 22 Feb 21

We are talking about the aged pension which is a Federal government thing. The aged pension for a couple is about $37K a year. There are other benefits like free health care which in aggregate easily exceed $50K a year.

I have a second property which is worth less that some of the boats and caravans that aged pensioners have. It’s bending the rules to store wealth. Superior ethics are stronger than situation ethics.

I recall the Territory government and its developer mates were calling for “empty nesters” to sell their large partly occupied homes which is where this downsizing thing started. Given that most Canberrans have already paid stamp duty twice or more for homes they have or now are occupying it’s a slap in the face to be coerced to sell and yet pay full stamp duty again.

I’m glad you aren’t getting any welfare. I hope your retirement money is safe too.

Capital Retro,
You were saying you personally were saving the government $50k, so using the couple’s pension rate is a bit disingenuous but OK.

To access that level of payment as a homeowner, you would need to have less than $400k in assets, when you (using the couple’s rate) must have more than $880k and a house.

And now you are telling us you have a second property? It’s also a bit meaningless to say it’s value is less than boats or caravans that other pensioners have when those assets are included in the assets test for their pension payments.

You seem to either be ignorant as to your true level of wealth compared to others or you’re deliberately trying to misrepresent your financial position.

“Given that most Canberrans have already paid stamp duty twice or more for homes they have or now are occupying it’s a slap in the face to be coerced to sell and yet pay full stamp duty again.”

We are now back to my original point. The best way to achieve supporting older people to downsize is for the government to finish their reform package entirely, replacing stamp duty revenue with rates.

The government needs revenue to pay for services. Services which are statistically accessed far more by elderly people, than those of the working age population who have to pay for the majority of them.

You should be happy that you’re in a relatively well off financial position rather than asking for welfare

Capital Retro5:27 pm 22 Feb 21

I could do what a lot of my former friends have done a re-arranged their finances to get an age pension.

And when it comes to the government “paying more for elderly people’s services” that doesn’t apply to me as I have private insurance and I pay all the gaps. That would save the government at least another $10K a year.

When you talk about “working age people” paying for the elderly you must be joking, right? Most “working class” families these days pay no net tax.

PS: You can own a car, boat and caravan and these are exempt from pension capping assets.

Capital Retro,
As above, yes you could restructure your finances to receive a pension(most likely by buying a more expensive house).

But you can’t claim some sort of moral superiority for not doing so but then turning around and complaining that the government won’t give you another form of welfare to downsize. It’s illogical.

Secondly, you clearly aren’t considering all government services if you think your insurance covers it. Health, Welfare, Transport, Defence etc all benefit you, whether you realise it or not.

And sorry, the facts are that working aged people pay the majority of taxation and older people are generally net receivers of taxation benefits. You can try to spin it however you want with false claims but that is the reality.

And I don’t know where you have got the misconception that cars, boats or caravans are exempt from pension assets tests but it’s completely false.


I love this. Tell me again how it’s the Liberals that are for the rich and big business. This is entirely the fault of ACT Labor, and impacts people on lower incomes far more than anybody else.

So do tell o holy one, whats the solution?

Wouldn’t matter who was in power in this town with the current business model of Government. And with no obvious alternative business model, hard to know how to avoid it happening.

I’d say a good start would be to stop wasting money on train sets and woke nonsense, so you don’t have to keep raising rates to pay for it. Also don’t enact legislation that introduces additional risk to landlords, thus increasing the cost of their insurance. All of that additional cost is passed on to renters.

Couple of easy ones there champ, that have added at least a couple of hundred bucks a month to peoples rent bill. That’s without even getting into the woeful land release strategy and land use in the ACT.

At least ACT Labor are keeping property development companies happy I guess.

Rates didn’t rise to pay for train sets. The train set payments are 1% of the territories total expenses not factoring in the increase in income as a result of it. And by income not talking fares but other income from increased land value along the corridor and the urban redevelopment. Stage 1 is actually a net gain not cost.

Yeah, a net gain, which is why the cost benefit analysis has been hidden and flatly refused to be released. You are drowning in kool-aid.

Um keek try again. The CBA for Stage 1, which is what JC referred to, was actually publicly released.

Amazing when people just rant without taking 2 seconds to check.

You mean the one that the Auditor General, among many others, tore to shreds and basically said was fantasy? Yeah, that wasn’t a CBA. It had a bunch of nonsense thrown in. The actual CBA is a tightly guarded secret.

Capital Retro3:52 pm 20 Feb 21

Where did that billion dollar deficit the Territory was facing come from JC?

With all the “net gains” we should be rolling in money.

Seeing as a billion dollars hasn’t been handed out for Light rail (I’m sure you realise it is structure as a PPP with payments over 20 years) then it’s clearly not from that is it?

And I am also sure you have been awake for the past 12 months and seen the deficits that are effecting every government in the country and most likely the whole world.

When the biggest land developer and price speculator in town is the ACT Government, and still delivering budget deficits, we have utterly no hope of addressing affordability issues in the Territory.

Land prices in the new suburbs are well over $1000 per metre, nearly on par with build costs. Parts of Sydney have lower land prices. Canberra’s median rent is now the highest in the country. We have all this stimulus by way of Fed Govt Home Builder Grants, First Home Buyer Loan Scheme, ACT FHOG that waives stamp duty, yet the vicious circle young people are trapped in is that even with the current record low interest rates, it’s nearly half the cost to mortgage than to rent! But how are wannabe first home buyers meant to save when they are paying $600+pw in rent?

It’s your Barr Govt and they are here to help! NOT!

The issue is also exacerbated here by the higher than average wages (compared to Australia). While recently there may have been some greater disconnect developing, ultimately wages drive house prices, and in turn also drive increased rents as well.

I don’t think there is any simple solution to the problem while we have a Government so over-reliant on income from land sales to make up a significant part of their Budget. If the states ever agree to increase the GST along with the Commonwealth, the ACT should put the money to 2 purposes – 1) finish the stamp duty removal process by funding the lost additional revenue and 2) use the revenue to reduce requirements from the SLA/CRA so they can genuinely reduce costs as such.

Scott Anthony12:28 am 18 Feb 21

Exactly, high taxes get LESS tax over time as businesses are fleeing to QBYN to save money, so less tax, the ‘triple rates’ is only half way through so there is lots of pain ahead and lets not forget if you rent your home you also have to pay land tax on top of the massive rates..

and yes, all we have are deficit budgets and hidden Tram expenses that won’t ever be repaid just to replace buses we already own now.. The Labor Green delusion is an expensive dystopia..

‘hidden tram expenses’? While I agree with the obscene nature of how much it is going to cost, the Government has been relatively transparent around the ongoing costs of the tram (for the elements finalised thus far). Not really sure what is hidden about any of it – the contract for stage 1 for instance is available in large parts, and if I remember rightly a fair bit of explanatory material was also provided at the time…

And when NSW moves to remove stamp duty, as they have flagged they are looking at, they’ll be in exactly the same position. Eventually, all jurisdictions will do it, and they’ll all replace it with land based taxation in some form.

Correct JS9. But what people need to think about is when NSW does remove stamp duty rather than increase rates which are a council cost they will most likely be introducing the land tax directly to the nsw government. So two payments going to two different governments.

Those who voted for Barr should not be allowed to complain in any way. Just saying why complain when it was your vote who got us here?

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.