rental affordability.

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We need action on rental affordability.

SACOSS is advocating for our State Government to step up & make renting more affordable

Stable and secure housing is the primary platform for connection to economic and social community life, providing a base that enables people to overcome challenges and live a decent life. That's one of the key reasons SACOSS is advocating strongly in this space – particularly in relation to rental affordability.

Renters are particularly impacted by high housing costs as they are likely to have lower incomes, less wealth, and spend proportionately more of their income on housing costs. They can also be stuck living in housing that is too hot in summer and too cold in winter, with thermal inefficiency impacting on their electricity costs, health and wellbeing - but with little power to do much about it.

We are calling for politicians, political parties, and policy makers to make some key commitments to help ease rental affordability pressures. Affordable housing is a basic need. This is true at any time, but during the challenging times we are seeing now, in particular, governments need to step up to ensure that everyone can cover the basics. 

You can see how the parties scored on the 'rental affordability' calls we made in the lead-up to this state election in our Report Card here.

Our calls to action include:

Minimum $1.4 billion investment from the State Government in public housing

A significant new State Government investment to increase the net stock of public housing (with the investment to be at least to the level of Victorian package: pro rata = $1.4bn over 4 years).

Public and community housing is a key part of the provision of affordable housing. It provides homes for those who are left out of the housing market and adds supply to the market to make housing more affordable for everyone. Its construction provides economic stimulus in the short term and it is a store of public wealth over the long term. However, the stock of public housing in South Australia has declined over recent decades, many of the houses are old and energy-inefficient, and there is a substantial waiting list for homes. As a response to the COVID pandemic, most other states have made significant new investments in public housing, with Victoria’s $5.3bn “Big Housing Build” being the largest investment. While SA still has proportionately more public housing than Victoria, there is great unmet need here and if Victoria can find money for public housing investment after all their lockdowns, South Australia should be able to make a proportionately similar investment in our public housing.

Minimum energy efficiency standards & disclosure for rentals

Implementation of minimum energy efficiency standards for private and public rental properties, and mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency ratings for all rental properties in South Australia.

Public and private rental properties in South Australia often have poor energy efficiency and may lack insulation, sufficient window coverings, draught proofing and heating and cooling. This can increase electricity costs for people to maintain sufficient temperatures in their homes, to keep cool in summer and warm in winter. There is often limited power for renters to request changes to the property they live in to make their tenancies more energy efficient or comfortable. To protect renters and ensure a base level of thermal comfort, the government should mandate minimum energy efficiency standards for all rental properties. Beyond minimum standards, there also needs to be mandatory disclosure of the energy efficiency rating of all rental properties. To be meaningful, the disclosure framework must apply at the point of lease for all properties – not be an opt-in voluntary system for landlords. There will also need to be protections against unfair rent increases with the implementation of minimum energy efficiency standards.

Energy efficiency for public & community housing 

Additional funding of $64 million over four years for Housing SA and other community-based organisations to deliver a targeted energy efficiency program for public and community housing tenants.

Energy efficient housing has been shown to reduce living costs and improve comfort levels for residential occupants, particularly in extreme heat and cold. Data from the National Social Housing Survey (2018) indicated that 4 in 10 social housing tenants, incorporating public, Aboriginal and community housing, said that their homes do not meet their needs for thermal comfort. In the national survey, SA had the lowest score for thermal comfort, indicating that social housing tenants are living in conditions that affect the health and wellbeing of tenants. Significant investment is required for Housing SA and other community-based social housing organisations to deliver a targeted energy efficiency program for social housing tenants. This could include retrofits of housing to seal windows and doors, replacing old insulation and upgrading heating, cooling and hot water systems in social housing properties.

Cost of Living concession parity for renters

The renter payment rate of the Cost of Living concession to be increased to the homeowner level.

The Cost of Living Concession’s origins as council rate relief continue to be reflected in the difference between payments for homeowners and renters. Tenants of rental properties who live on low incomes receive less than half the concession amount that home owner-occupiers receive, except for retirees. The different payment amounts imply that home owner-occupiers have higher ‘costs of living’ than renters, but the national data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Household Expenditure Survey shows that this is not the case, while most economic analysis suggests that landlords pass on the costs of council rates – so there is no justification for the lower concession rate.

If you would like to find out more about SACOSS advocacy on what is needed to 'cover the basics' - and any progress on these key areas - check out the rest of our Cover the Basics website, and sign up for advocacy updates. And if you have experiences, research or information to share, please don't hesitate to get in touch. Just email Together, we can do more.

Forum: Housing Affordability & Renters' Rights 

Interested in this issue? SACOSS joined with Shelter SA, Better Renting and the Anti-Poverty Network SA for a public (online) forum on Tuesday 8 February to discuss housing affordability, renters' rights and energy efficiency of rental homes.

This event was originally planned as an in-person public meeting in West Torrens, due to the high proportion of renters in West Torrens, compared to the national average, so has a special relevance for West Torrens renters - but is also relevant for renters more broadly. You can find out more here and register here.

Held in February, it included presentations from the organising bodies, lived experience testimonials and a Q&A session, as well as hearing from the member for West Torrens, the Hon Tom Koutsantonis MP, and Greens candidate for West Torrens Peta-Anne Louth as our two political speakers confirmed so far.

Forum background

The ability to find affordable housing used to be a given in South Australia, thanks to a well- resourced public housing sector. In the last three decades, public housing stock was sold down as a state asset-stripping exercise by governments from both major parties. Low-income earners can no longer find affordable premises as a result of the explosion of home and land values in South Australia over the last two decades. The economic costs of homelessness in terms of education, lost employment opportunities and crisis service delivery cannot be under-estimated. The lack of affordable housing in South Australia exacerbates poverty and the statistics for people experiencing disadvantage, poverty and homelessness speak for themselves.

Some key facts and figures

  • 20,000 South Australians received homelessness services last year, and were not provided with housing outcomes
  • On any given night, 7000 people in SA do not have permanent accommodation, and are living in various forms of precarity by sleeping rough, in cars, or on the couches of those able to spare them
  • 16,000 people are currently waiting for public housing
  • Young families and trauma survivors are having to share accommodation with strangers
  • The current state government's focus on building and selling homes at a price point of up to $420,000 is not affordable for people living on low incomes
  • Urban renewal projects are merely replacing public housing and see the loss of 75% of public land
  • There are enough vacant residential properties in South Australia to house everyone who is experiencing homelessness or living with housing stress, but there is no program of work that seeks to activate them
  • Most public and private rental properties in South Australia also often have poor energy efficiency and may lack insulation, sufficient window coverings, draught proofing and heating and cooling
  • Across Australia, the deaths of 10,000 Australians annually are attributed to cold, while heatwaves are the leading cause of deaths among weather events/disasters
  • Renters often have limited power to request changes to the property they live in to make their tenancies more energy efficient and comfortable
  • Non-lessees in multi-occupancy tenancies have few if any rights, or access to the Cost of Living concession.

More advocacy in this space

Shelter SA advocacy

Shelter SA has put forward a range of solutions to State Government, such as investing to increase the net supply of social housing and including strong structural reform of the inclusionary zoning policy. Current state government housing policies need to change to produce social housing outcomes. Instead of selling off public land, this land could be the basis for delivering affordable housing and saving the state billions in future land acquisition. The South Australian Government claims it cannot invest in social housing without Commonwealth funding and federal politicians have taken a position that social housing is the responsibility of the States and Territories. However, we have seen other states investing in social housing and acting to provide the housing that we need and South Australia must emulate those programs. A rental voucher scheme should also be explored, as building more social housing cannot occur overnight and people need homes now.

Anti-Poverty Network SA advocacy

The Anti-Poverty Network SA is calling for the construction or acquisition of 65,000 new rent-controlled public housing tenancies that meet the accessibility needs of their tenants, which also meet minimum standards for thermal efficiency and provide efficient heating and cooling systems to reduce operational costs. The APN SA also supports a housing voucher initiative, subject to an immediate rent-freeze to prevent profiteering. APN SA also calls for a strong tenants’ bill of rights covering non-lessees.

Better Renting advocacy

Better Renting also calls for the South Australian state government to commit to implement a minimum energy efficiency standard for rental homes. Minimum energy efficiency standards in rental homes will help keep people who rent their homes safe and healthy.  Everyone should have a healthy and affordable home.

Housing information, advice and assistance

Shelter SA has provided this information sheet, which provides information on where you can go for advce and assistance on housing matters.