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A new report from the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and UNSW Sydney shows that regional rents are now 18 per cent higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, while wages in the same period have only grown by 6 per cent.
The Australian findings mirror those found in other markets such as the UK and the US, where rent inflation in 2021 reached levels not seen since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said low-income regional residents are copping the brunt of the increases, which cannot be covered by CPI-linked benefits increases that are indexed to capital city rents.
“With private rentals already in short supply before the recent devastating floods, soaring rents, and a severe shortage of social housing options, we’re in the middle of a renting crisis in many parts of regional Australia,” Dr Goldie said.
“In flood-affected areas, it’s clear the rental market cannot house the families on low and middle incomes who have been made homeless temporarily – the real concern is that this then becomes permanent.”
Dr Goldie said a greater supply of social housing in regional centres, particularly those hit worst by natural disasters such as floods, is desperately needed to bring asking rents down.
“We need immediate Federal Government action to help house people made homeless in flood-affected communities,” Dr Goldie.
“But COVID and the floods are only aggravating a national rental problem that has been building for years. After a decade of Commonwealth neglect on social housing we badly need a major national building program that starts to remedy this, with a sizeable part of the investment going to the regional centres facing the greatest stress.”
It found that while many countries took far-reaching measures to maintain incomes and safeguard housing during the pandemic, almost all saw asking rents explode once government intervention ended.
Lead author Professor Hal Pawson said social and economic policies during the pandemic offered a temporary view of how Australia could be.
“Just as in most other countries in our study, Australia’s emergency income protection and also housing policy measures triggered by the pandemic went well beyond what anyone would have previously imagined,” Professor Pawson said.
“Just for a brief moment we had a tantalising glimpse of cities with street homelessness greatly reduced and a rental housing market where evictions were drastically cut.
“But since the experience has prompted virtually no permanent reforms of social security or rental housing regulation, governments appear to have resisted learning lessons from the episode.”
Emma Greenhalgh, CEO of low-income housing organisation National Shelter, said we are now in a housing emergency that has been brewing for years.
“This report demonstrates the missed opportunities of the past two years to capitalise on the initial positive responses by governments to address housing and homelessness issues during COVID, and create a housing legacy from the pandemic by investing in social and affordable housing,” Ms Greenhalgh said.
“We are in a national housing emergency that has been a long time in the making, compounded by COVID and climate disasters. There is a lack of urgency by the Federal Government to this crisis.
“The development of a national housing strategy to respond to this crisis is critical.”