On Saturday I attended the Hobartians Facing Homelessness rally, where again I was outraged to hear stories from people about the great difficulties they face sleeping rough, or finding and keeping a safe and affordable roof over their heads.
And this dire situation is getting worse, as evidenced by Tasmania’s social housing waiting list doubling over the last eight years, with 4,453 applicants now queued up and priority applicants waiting on average 67 weeks to be accommodated.
But of course averages don’t tell the whole story, and I can think of one particular family who’ve been on the priority wait list for almost seven years, despite living currently in a private rental plagued with black mould, holes in the roof and cracked windows.
To make matters worse, private rentals are no longer an option for many as they are so scarce and unaffordable with Hobart’s vacancy rate sitting currently at 0.6%. And for many of the lucky home-hunters, who are successful and do secure a property, the rent is so high that they face the very real decision of whether to forgo medical appointments, heating, fuel or even food to afford the rent.
Indeed the Rental Affordability Index continues to rate Greater Hobart as the country’s least affordable metropolitan area, with the median rent having increased by 50% since 2016. And with interest rates rising, we can expect rents to increase further as rises are handballed onto tenants.
The situation really is grim and we need a hell of a lot more than Band-aid solutions if we are to turn things around. For instance at the local government level we need to free up land, facilitate sensible development applications more efficiently and rein in the conversion of long-term rentals to short-stay holiday accommodation.
At the state level we need more crisis accommodation, more social housing, more supported accommodation for people with special needs, and rent-to-buy public housing.
And, of course, at the federal level we need an extension of the National Rental Affordability Scheme, an increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and deep investment property tax reform.
On a positive note though, good on the Hobart City Council which just last night decided to investigate higher rates for homes used as short-stay accommodation. This is a smart move, especially seeing as Hobart now has, proportionally, seven times more Airbnbs than Sydney which is patently unsustainable and unacceptable when locals are being forced into the cold.
The housing crisis is the result of years of flawed policy making at all levels of government. But it can be remedied, and sure needs to be because access to safe, secure and affordable housing is a fundamental human right.