When the construction industry talks about housing, it’s usually in terms of supply chains and materials; when the media talk about housing, it’s normally about house prices and interest rates. Yet, for the single mother and her children escaping family violence, for the employed mother struggling to pay the bills, for the mother who is creating a home for herself and her children – for so many of us, housing isn’t an investment. It’s so much more.
Housing is also a human right.
In 2007, a small study of single mothers in Melbourne showed rents rising and sucking up a higher proportion of their income. This proved to be telling: two years later, all the capital cities had record housing rental prices.
Since then, every year when we look at the key issues single mothers contact us about, housing is in the top three. Every now and then, a mum shares her shout of success for shifting to a more affordable area or even taking on a mortgage. Much more frequently, these calls are about:
- Not being able to find somewhere to safe, suitable and affordable rent. This dire situation is not surprising when there is a one per cent vacancy rate across the country – and single mothers are having to complete with couples or people with no kids.
- Sudden evictions (e.g. a landlord’s family member moving in) that mean the family is facing homelessness.
- Getting into arrears through sickness or an inability to meet rent increases.
- Discrimination or being poor treatment by real estate agents or landowners.
- Wanting to join our Single Mother Share House Register to find innovative solutions.
Since last year, we have again been seeing massive increases and it’s like that, once more, single mother families are the canaries in the coalmine.
According to Nicola Powell, Domain’s Chief of Research and Economics: ‘For the first time since 2009, all capital cities have record house rents, highlighting the rental crisis the country is currently going through.’ No surprise there – a new report shows house rents are up about $135 per week in Sydney and Melbourne and $140 for units.
Why is this happening? Here are some of the factors:
- Long term neglect by all levels of government with insufficient regular building of affordable housing and complicated zoning, planning and expensive sub-division processes.
- Impacts of movement that started during and immediately post-COVID.
- The resumption of travel and increasing migration pushing the AirBnB market along.
- Cost of living eating up more of our incomes.
Queensland is finally getting on board with only allowing rental increases once a year. If they asked South Australia, they might find that just increases short leases. Rent values nationally have increased 24.1 per cent from September 2020 to February this year, up from average annual rent growth rates of just 2.1 per cent through the decade of the 2010s.
The fashionable answer to all this at the moment is ‘Build to Rent’. This is common in many other parts of the world but relatively new here. Mostly it is targeted at the high end renters, and there are concerns that it would never provide enough affordable housing.
The Federal government promised to provide a housing fund with $500 million a year in returns to get 30,000 social and affordable homes built over the next five years. They also promised $200 million to repair housing in remote Indigenous communities, $100 million for crisis accommodation for women and children escaping domestic violence, and $30 million for housing for veterans. This sounds good but there are real concerns this is not nearly enough.
We think it is time for rent freezes for a couple of years while there is some serious sorting done around housing, both rental and for purchase.
When the Family Law Act changes are through and our Parenting Payment Single campaign is – hopefully! – successfully competed, we will be shifting our attention to housing.