On Saturday April 5, not one single property advertised for rent in Byron Bay was considered affordable for people on minimum incomes.
This was one of the shocking findings of the fifth annual Rental Affordability Snapshot conducted by the charity Anglicare.
Anglicare’s north coast director Estelle Graham told Echonetdaily that the problem locally was worse than in previous years – and worse than the national and statewide trends.
‘Nationally there was an 11 per cent increase of properties [advertised on the survey weekend] but in our region there was an 11 per cent decrease,’ Ms Graham said.
‘This is even more significant when you consider that Casino was included for the first time this year,’ she added.
And the affordability figures for Casino were among the better results from the region, the survey shows.
Apart from Byron Bay, which could not get any worse than zero, Ballina registered the biggest drop.
On the same Saturday, just two properties out of a total of 69 for rent in Ballina were considered affordable by those on low incomes. And even these could only be afforded by a couple with two children on at least the minimum wage.
‘The people who were best off were those on minimum wages [as opposed to pensions or government benefits],’ Ms Graham said.
‘But it’s bit alarming to see the availability even for this group has decreased markedly across the country (including 88 per cent in Ballina).
‘While they do have higher incomes than those on Newstart, these families don’t get healthcare cards and other extra benefits.’
Lismore and Casino fared better than Byron and Ballina.
On the survey weekend Lismore had 47 properties (43 per cent) and Casino 33 properties (58 per cent) considered affordable by a two-parent, two-child family on the minimum wage receiving Family Tax Benefits A and B.
By comparison, in Tweed Heads just six properties (nine per cent of the rental housing available that weekend) was considered affordable to this group.
‘Nationwide, not a single property advertised was considered affordable for a single person on Newstart and not many were available for couples either,’ Ms Graham said.
To address the problem, Anglicare is calling on the federal government to appoint a minister to co-ordinate the issue of housing.
‘At a national level we would love to see a federal housing minister as a senior position. It’s a significant problem nationally and needs significant response,’ Ms Graham said.
‘There needs to be a whole-of-government approach. There’s an increase in the divide and the longer it goes on the worse it gets.
‘Most of the public housing stock available to our clients has five- to ten-year waiting lists.
‘People needing housing need it soon, or they find themselves paying rent they can’t afford. Public housing is just not an immediate option in most places.’
As to what can be done about it, Anglicare believes the answer is to provide incentives to private landlords to invest in low-cost housing.
‘Most of the people coming to our doors need to access private properties so we need an incentive to private landlords to invest. People who own properties do so as a business opportunity. So why would they rent lower price?’
Ms Graham said that the ever-increasing home prices around the country are only compounding the problem.
‘The more expensive the properties are to buy, the more landlords have to charge.’
In the meantime, Anglicare is finding more people sleeping in their cars and on friends’ couches.
‘There’s a lot of hidden homelessness, overcrowding of properties. Not just young kids: older women are an emerging problem group,’ Ms Graham said.
‘Having adequate housing is just a basic human need.’