Chapter 6 - Housing
Housing is a linchpin of social inclusion. Until security of
tenure is stable, other issues relating to economic vulnerability cannot be
addressed. Shelter is a basic requirement and it is the foundation on which one's
sense of belonging is established.
Housing is a basic human need and plays a crucial role in determining
whether or not people live in poverty and in a society's ability to realise
broader social outcomes. The fundamental role of secure housing was described
in one submission:
Affordable housing can play an important role in reducing
poverty by providing households with more income to access essential services
and enjoy opportunities to participate in the economic, social and cultural
life of their community. In this way, access to affordable housing has the
potential to prevent the inter-generational transmission of poverty and
Housing can provide, inter alia, a stable base for people to find
a job, undertake study and training, participate in family and community
activities, and access local services.
Housing and poverty
There is an extensive literature on the links between housing and
poverty. In most studies of 'before' and 'after housing' poverty – that is,
after housing costs are included – the rates of after housing poverty are
significantly higher than those of before housing poverty. A study commissioned
by the Smith Family estimated that in 2000, 17.5 per cent of the population
were in 'after housing' poverty while 13 per cent were in poverty prior to housing
costs being taken into account.
These figures reflect the fact that the housing costs of the poor are a more
significant proportion of their income than for middle and upper income
families. Taking housing costs into account thus increases the relative
financial deprivation suffered by lower income households. Figure 6.1 shows the
poverty rates for renters and boarders are significantly higher than for
homeowners or purchasers and increases significantly for this group after their
housing costs have been taken into account – from 18 per cent (on a before
housing basis) to 28 per cent (on an after housing basis).
Figure 6.1: Estimated
poverty rates for individuals in 2000, by housing tenure, before- and after-
a Using the half average income poverty line (Henderson
Source: Harding A, Lloyd R & Greenwell H, Financial
Disadvantage in Australia, 1990 to 2000,
The Smith Family, 2001, p.19.
Tenants in public housing, as well as being poor, also often face
compounding stress factors in their lives. One witness noted that a significant
stress factor on public housing estates is loneliness – and loneliness brings
isolation, fear and a lack of confidence. People are often afraid to go out in
the larger housing estates, and many residents, particularly female sole
parents, are preyed upon by others due to their vulnerability.
Housing is usually the single greatest cost facing most households,
particularly for low income earners. Housing costs have increased rapidly over
the last decade. At the same time, however, the availability of 'affordable
housing' – that is housing that low income households can afford without
experiencing housing stress – has declined. 'Housing stress' refers to people
having to pay such a significant proportion of their income for housing that
they suffer severe financial consequences. It generally refers to those
households who pay 30 per cent or more of their household income in housing
costs. Households in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution are
especially vulnerable to housing stress. ACOSS stated that a quarter of a
million people currently experience housing stress and if this trend continues
the number will be one million by 2020.
Housing and poverty
The cost of housing is a major contributor
to poverty. Housing affordability in the major population areas is at an
Australian housing market is characterised by:
- relentlessly rising housing prices
and a growing 'housing affordability crisis';
- an increasing 'mismatch' between
housing need and housing outcomes, resulting in both over-crowding and rising
short-term and chronic homelessness;
- a decrease in private rental
low-rent dwellings, especially in our capital cities;
- increasing social segregation
expressed spatially in the creation of homogeneous enclaves of rich and poor
residents within the metropolitan areas and in greater socio-economic divisions
between city and country; and
- the creation of a vicious circle
of multiple disadvantage in marginalised areas, raising the spectre of 'social
exclusion' and the inter-generational perpetuation of unemployment and
Submission 102, pp.9-10 (Shelter NSW).
Despite the recent housing boom, Australia has experienced a continuing
decline in the stock of affordable housing and is facing a housing
affordability crisis. Nationally there is an estimated shortage of 150 000
units of affordable housing.
Those living in private rental are most affected by the housing crisis. A
recent joint study by National Shelter and ACOSS found that in 2001-02:
- over one-third (35 per cent) of Commonwealth Rent Assistance
(CRA) recipients (approximately 330 360 people) spent more than 30 per
cent of their income on rent and were in housing stress;
- almost one in ten (9 per cent or approximately 85 000 people)
spent more than 50 per cent of their income in rent and were in extreme housing
- in most of the major population areas the maximum amount of CRA
paid is insufficient to ensure that households can live free of housing stress –
this is especially so in inner Sydney and inner Melbourne.
An earlier study by the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) reported
similar findings. The study found that in 1996, almost three-quarters of lower
income private tenants in Melbourne were in housing stress, an increase of 13.5
percent from a decade earlier. Similarly, in Sydney, 47 per cent of lower
income households were estimated to be experiencing housing stress in 1999, an
increase of 50 per cent since 1986.
The most extreme example of housing stress is being homeless.
Homelessness in Australia was described during the inquiry as a 'national
is an appalling sight to see men setting up a tent city in Talbot Place in Sydney,
outside the Matthew Talbot Hostel, which is the largest men's hostel in the
Southern Hemisphere. Men from our area [Lismore] go to Sydney to get
accommodation because they cannot find it in our area. They also cannot find it
in Sydney. We are at risk of mirroring cities in India where people sleeping on
the street is almost the norm and is accepted.
Committee Hansard 1.7.03, pp.853-54 (St Vincent de Paul, Lismore).
Since the 1980s the issue of homelessness has been the subject of
several significant reports. A major report by the Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission into youth homelessness, chaired by Brian Burdekin,
reported in 1989. The report highlighted the plight of homeless youth,
estimating that there were at least 20 000 to 25 000 homeless
children and young people nationally at that time. The report called for urgent
government and community responses to this extremely serious social problem.
Evidence to this inquiry confirmed many of findings of the Burdekin report,
including the link between homelessness and poverty. Several of the issues
raised in the report are still current and need to be addressed.
6.10 One of the most
significant causes of homelessness in Australia is the inability of some people
to access affordable housing. Other key factors are poverty and unemployment.
Any of these factors alone or together place people at risk of homelessness.
Combined with other factors such as poor health, disability or the experience
of violence, people are at higher risk of homelessness.
6.11 The estimated
number of homeless people in Australia on Census night in 2001 was 100 000.
While this has declined slightly from the estimated 105 300 homeless people
identified on Census night in 1996,
it remains an unacceptably high number.
Homeless in Australia
– An Analysis of 2001 Census data on homelessness
- There were 74 280 homeless
households in the 2001 Census, compared with 72 850 in 1996. In 2001, 78
per cent were single person households, 13 per cent were couples, and 9 per
cent were families. These findings are similar to 1996.
- Over half (54 per cent) of the
homeless population were aged 25 years or older, including one-quarter (24 per
cent) who were 45 years or over. However, 36 per cent were young people aged
12-24 years, and another 10 per cent were children under 12 years
- Overall there were more males in
the homeless population (58 per cent), but women are now a substantial minority
(42 per cent), compared with 30-40 years ago.
Indigenous people are more likely
to experience homelessness than other Australians – overall, 2 per cent of the
population identify as Indigenous, but 9 per cent of the homeless were
- Approximately 60-70 per cent of
people in improvised dwellings, boarding houses and SAAP experience a sustained
period of homelessness (six months or longer).
6.12 The study of the
2001 Census data concluded that there are now more women in the homeless
population, more young people, and a significant minority of families –
although there are still homeless people who confirm to the old 'skid-row'
stereotype. The study also stated that it is clear that the homeless population
'has increased over the past 40 years, but there is no quantitative data on the
rate of increase'.
6.13 Evidence to this
inquiry confirmed that the rate of homelessness has increased in recent years,
although this is not reflected in the latest Census figures. The SVDP Society
indicated that in Sydney the Society worked with 23 000 homeless people in
1998, however, this had increased to 43 000 cases in 2002.
QCOSS also stated that there had been a 'massive increase' in homelessness in
Queensland – 'this is borne out by supported accommodation data, although that
data only counts the number of people that are being serviced by the service
system that is funded under SAAP and therefore only counts quite a small
proportion of the real level of homelessness'.
The BSL also noted that in 2001-02 there had been an increase of 5 per
cent in the number of people using homelessness services over the previous
population groups experience homelessness differently:
for Indigenous Australians, various forms of discrimination and
extreme socio-economic disadvantage, are central causes of homelessness;
- for women, homelessness is most often closely linked to domestic
and family violence;
- for young people, homelessness is strongly linked to family abuse
and violence, family conflict and unemployment; and
- for families, the lack of suitable rental housing, low vacancy
rates in the private rental market, gambling and unemployment are central
causes of homelessness.
6.15 Many long-term
residents of caravan parks are also at increased risk of homelessness – the
range of risk factors include failure to pay rent, park closures, and lack of
security of tenure, including lack of written occupancy agreements and often a
lack of appeal rights. Many long-term residents move to caravan parks because
there is no other suitable alternative accommodation – many are unemployed or
on sickness benefits or no longer in the active workforce.
Living in a caravan park
Several families I have worked with live in the local
caravan park. Moving into this environment is usually a financial decision, a
last resort and an embarrassment to all family members. These families became
more isolated from all their previous associations because of distance, the
cost and the irregularity of public transport, and not wanting others to know
about their depraved living situation. Children will not invite their friends
over, saying, there is not enough space and I will be harassed about our "povo
life". Children roam the street connecting with anyone who is in the same
Consider having to walk up the road to go to the
toilet or have a shower, allowing your young children to play in the street
because there is no room in the one bedroom caravan that accommodates 4 people.
Family members feel bad about themselves they start to
take medication (legal and illegal) to get through the day. Family life falls
apart, children stop going to school, there is lots of fighting and then
violence, children run away and attach to undesirable groups of people, or
anyone who provides a roof overhead.
131, Hunter Council of Social Services, case studies provided as
additional information, 29.5.03.
6.16 The Australian
Federation of Homelessness Organisations (AFHO) argued that Commonwealth and
State Governments need to increase private rental and home purchase assistance
for lower income people to address the issue of homelessness. AFHO cautioned,
however, that the provision of housing alone is unlikely to address issues of
homelessness and poverty for many people. Access to general support and
counselling services, access to mental health and other health services, and
legal assistance and advocacy are critical in assisting a significant
proportion of the homeless population to secure and maintain appropriate
housing over the longer term.
Supported Accommodation Assistance
6.17 The Supported
Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP), which is jointly funded by the
Commonwealth and the States, provides transitional supported accommodation and
other services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. In
2001-02, there were some 1300 SAAP agencies across Australia, assisting on
average some 20 000 people per day. SAAP agencies not only offer accommodation
services, but other services such as employment and training assistance and a
range of counselling services.
6.18 The current SAAP
(SAAP IV) is currently being evaluated and AFHO indicated that 'to date we do
not have a commitment to there being a SAAP 5'.
The evaluation is due to be completed in April 2004. AFHO expressed strong
support for the continuation of SAAP arguing that it is a 'world-class' program
with an effective national focus. AFHO added that:
SAAP as a crisis program interfaces with a whole lot of other
mainstream programs, and we believe it is crucial that that is linked up at a
national level...We also believe that the value of SAAP is that it is a joint
Commonwealth-state program and it is a special purpose payment. We would
certainly like to see SAAP remain that way...We do believe that homelessness is a
national issue and we see that one of the values of SAAP has been the working
together of the Commonwealth and the states and territories.
6.19 The Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) also noted that SAAP 'has been widely
recognised as a world-class program...It is not only an important part of Australia's
overall response to homelessness, but also an integral part of Australia's
broader social safety net'.
While supporting crisis accommodation programs, it was emphasised during the
inquiry that the solution to homelessness cannot solely centre on these
programs. One witness noted that 'crisis accommodation only hides the problem.
That is not to suggest that we should not be providing crisis accommodation,
but the solution must be affordable, accessible, long term housing'.
6.20 The Committee
believes that SAAP provides a range of valuable services to homeless people and
is an important part of the social security 'safety net' arrangements for a
particularly vulnerable section of the community.
6.21 The Committee
notes the evaluation of the program is due to be completed in April 2004 and considers
that the Commonwealth Government should give a firm commitment to the
continuation of the program.
6.22 That the
Commonwealth Government provide a commitment to the continued operation of the
Supported Accommodation Assistance Program.
Groups with special housing needs
6.23 In addition to
homeless people or those at risk of becoming homeless, as discussed above,
several other groups on low incomes who, because they suffer from social or
physical disadvantage, often find it difficult to access affordable housing.
These groups include Indigenous people, people with disabilities, people from
certain ethnic backgrounds, single people with children, and the aged –
especially the frail aged.
6.24 The particular
housing needs of these groups are discussed in more detail in chapters 11, 13,
15 and 16. These groups often find it difficult to access the private rental
market and increasingly rely on public and community housing to address their
housing needs. Issues relating to public housing and access and affordability
generally are discussed below.
Addressing housing access and affordability
6.25 A number of
measures were suggested during the inquiry to address housing access and
affordability for people on low incomes. These included:
- the provision of public and community housing;
- rent assistance;
- private investment in low-cost housing;
tenants' rights and tenancy databases; and
- the development of a national housing strategy.
Public and community housing
6.26 Public housing
comprises those dwellings owned (or leased) and managed by State and Territory
housing authorities. Australia has relatively low levels of public housing –
about 5 per cent of all households live in public housing tenures, the
proportion ranging from 3 per cent in Queensland to 13 per cent in the Northern
housing is rental housing provided for low to moderate income or special needs
households managed by community-based organisations that are at least partly
subsidised by government. Community housing models vary across jurisdictions.
This form of housing aims to provide a choice of housing location, physical
type and management arrangements. Some forms of community housing also allow
tenants to participate in the management of their housing. As at June 2003,
there were some 337 959 public housing dwellings occupied nationally with
a further 29 367 community housing dwellings.
6.28 Public housing
is funded jointly by the Commonwealth and the States under the Commonwealth
State Housing Agreement (CSHA). Under this program, public housing tenants pay
no more than 25 per cent of their income in rent. The new five-year CSHA
commenced on 1 July 2003. The Agreement provides funding of $4.75 billion over
five years for primarily public housing, but also for community, Indigenous and
crisis housing. The Agreement includes provision for bilateral housing
agreements between the Commonwealth and the State/Territories, allowing each
jurisdiction more flexibility in delivering housing assistance according to its
priorities and circumstances.
6.29 Public housing
provides an essential avenue by which many low income households are able to
secure affordable and appropriate housing of an adequate standard. Evidence
indicates, however, that the steady decrease in funding to public housing;
increased maintenance costs and the costs of upgrading the public housing
stock; and increasing demand for affordable housing, is threatening the
long-term viability of the system.
6.30 Table 6.1 shows
Commonwealth and State funding for the CSHA and funding for Commonwealth Rent
Assistance (CRA) over the period 1992-93 to 2001-02. The Table indicates that
real funding for the CSHA has been generally declining over the period under
Table 6.1: Government
expenditure on CSHA assistance and CRA
*CSHA expenditure in 2000-01 and 2001-02 contained
$89.7 million of GST compensation paid to State and Territory Governments.
Source: Department of Family and Community Services, Annual
Reports (various years); Housing Assistance Act 1996, Annual Reports
(various years); ABS, National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and
Productivity, Cat. No. 5206.0.
6.31 Submissions also
commented on the decline in funding for the CSHA. ACOSS stated that expenditure
on the CSHA has declined in real terms since the 1980s, and between 1984-85 and
1994-95 ACOSS estimated that per capita levels of spending on social housing
via the CSHA declined by 25 per cent.
This decline in funding levels was confirmed in the recent Report on
Government Services 2004. The report stated that expenditure on CSHA
assistance declined in real terms by approximately 18.6 per cent between
1993-94 and 2002-03. Expenditure on CRA increased by approximately 9.8 per cent
in real terms over the same period.
6.32 The Queensland
Government noted that historically CSHA grants have not been indexed for
inflation, and have declined in absolute terms since 1996 when the Commonwealth
began applying 'efficiency dividends'. As a result, the States are left with
public housing infrastructure that can no longer be sustained with current
levels of funding. The Queensland Government, referring to features of the 2003
CSHA which introduces indexation, but also continues to apply efficiency
dividends – noted that the Agreement 'will still result in a decline in the
real value of funding'.
Waiting lists for public housing have also increased – the waiting list for
public housing in NSW alone is 90 000 to 100 000.
6.33 Concerns were
also expressed at the increasing 'welfarisation' of public housing. Over the
last decades public housing has been increasingly rationed to the most
disadvantaged in the community whereas historically it provided affordable
housing for low to moderate income households.
Most new tenants are now on some form of Centrelink payment or benefit – being
on a low income of itself is therefore no longer the main criteria for being
eligible for public housing. Approximately 80 per cent of households renting
from State housing authorities in 1997-98 relied on pensions and benefits as
their principal source of income. Although people with a disability represented
17 per cent of the total population aged between 15-64 years in 1998, 39 per
cent of public housing tenants of this age group in 1998 were people with a
In June 2002, of all income units in public housing almost one in three contained
an adult with a disability.
noted that current Government policy favours the targeting of scarce affordable
housing resources to those with the highest – and often the most complex –
needs and with low incomes. The Tenants Union of Victoria noted that because of
the tight targeting, households experiencing only affordability
problems, and 'working poor' households are either waiting for excessively long
periods for allocation of a property, or are excluded from the system
6.35 ACOSS noted that
the social housing system cannot be sustained if both income-related rents and
targeting remain. ACOSS also noted that public housing is carrying significant
unfunded maintenance and redevelopment liabilities, and faces a cash flow
crisis which has meant virtually no new stock has been added nationally as
capital funding has been used to meet this gap.
The level of public housing stock at the national level has declined from
362 967 dwellings in 1999-00 to 354 124 dwellings in 2001-02.
The BSL advised that annual additions nationally to public housing have
declined from between 10 000 and 15 000 to less than 5000 dwellings
in the last few years. The Brotherhood noted that internal revenue now
generated in Victoria's public housing only covers the cost of rental
operations but is not sufficient to fund the acquisition of new stock,
improvements to older stock or redevelopment of estates.
argued that it was vital that a viable public housing system be maintained and
be adequately funded.
Shelter NSW stated that:
It is...vital for capital funding levels to increase
substantially, given that funding reductions together with increased targeting
of public housing to at-risk groups have led to a steep decline in new
construction (combined with a blow out in waiting lists) and an equally steep
decline in rental returns with higher percentages than ever of tenants on
6.37 The provision of
a viable public housing system would, however, require considerable
expenditures. Shelter NSW estimated that it would cost $2 billion a year to
provide a sustainable system in NSW alone – 'you have 130,000 units of public
housing and we are talking about tripling that. It is a lot of money. But then
you would end up with a sustainable social housing system which would house not
just very poor people but up to moderate income people'.
6.38 The use of
private capital to finance public and community housing is sometimes cited as a
way of increasing stock without increasing the level of government funding.
This Committee's 1997 report into housing assistance drew attention to a number
of overseas countries, for example, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands,
where private institutional investors are a significant source of funding for
public and social housing.
6.39 Recent CSHAs
have encouraged the States to use Agreement funds for arrangements involving
investment from the private sector into public housing. In recent years there
has been a trend towards greater involvement of the private sector in the
provision of this form of housing. Indeed, one of the objectives under the 2003
CSHA is to 'promote innovative approaches to leverage additional resources into
Social Housing, through community, private sector and other partnerships'.
6.40 Several States
have promoted greater private and community sector involvement in the area of
public housing provision. In Victoria, the 2000-01 State Budget provided $94.5
million over three years (2000-03) for the Social Housing Innovations Project.
The aim of the Project is to develop joint housing ventures with local
government bodies, non-government organisations and private sector companies.
At June 2002, 66 such joint ventures had been announced across the State. Queensland
is also looking at ways of using the community and private sectors in the
provision of affordable housing. One example is the establishment of the
Brisbane Housing Company, which procures homes in inner Brisbane to rent to
people on low or moderate income. It is a 'partnership' arrangement between
government, community groups and the private sector. Western Australia is also
increasing the range of alternative housing solutions by expanding its
community housing sector and bond assistance scheme, as well as maximising the
ability of housing providers to access private investment. In 2000-01, private
investments in public/community housing totalled $450 000 compared to $300 000
reservations were expressed with the concept of public-private partnerships.
The Tenants Union of Victoria stated that while there were many theoretical
models 'there is no real practical experience in the Australian context of that
working'. The Tenants Union pointed to the experience of the redevelopment of
the Kensington public housing estate in Melbourne's west, which was a
public-private partnership between Becton and the Victorian Office of Housing,
noting that 'the compromise that was required there to make that work was
significant control for the developer around the nature of public housing, the
nature of allocations of the residents of the estate – lots of qualifications
that are around social engineering'.
6.42 The Committee
believes that public and community housing provides a vital element in
addressing the housing needs of some of the most disadvantaged people in the
community, especially those with low incomes and those with special needs. The
Committee is strongly supportive of continuing Commonwealth and State
government funding for public housing. The Committee also believes that
partnerships should be developed with the private sector to jointly finance
public housing developments.
6.43 That base
funding arrangements for public housing be increased under the
Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement.
6.44 That the
Commonwealth and the States:
- increase funding for the maintenance of current housing stock;
- increase funding for new public housing stock; and
- develop strategies to increase investment from the private sector
into public housing.
Rent Assistance (CRA) is designed to assist those on income support payments
with housing affordability in the private rental market. It is a supplementary
payment, payable in addition to most classes of income support payments to
assist with private rental costs. In 2002-03, Commonwealth outlays on CRA to
income support recipients was $1.8 billion. There were 940 708 recipients
of CRA (as at June 2003).
significant Commonwealth outlays, evidence to the inquiry expressed concerns
about the effectiveness of the CRA program in addressing the housing
affordability problems experienced by people on low incomes.
A major concern was that a large proportion of people in receipt of CRA still
experienced considerable housing affordability problems. Shelter NSW stated
that CRA is not keeping up with rising rents in most capital cities and some
FaCS data for December 2002, indicate that 34 per cent of CRA recipients spent
more than 30 per cent of their income in rent and 9 per cent spent more than 50
per cent of their income on rent.
Similar figures were reported in the recent study by National Shelter and ACOSS
referred to earlier in this chapter.
6.47 Concerns were
also raised that CRA has no real effect on the supply of affordable housing in
the private sector. The Tenants Union of Victoria commented that the decline in
affordable housing stock across Australia has two features. It shows a decline
in absolute numbers of low cost private rental at a time when the private
rental market experienced strong growth overall, and it demonstrates that there
is also a problem for low income renters accessing low cost stock, as they are
competing with other renters in the market.
Evidence also indicated that flexibility of location is often not provided. One
witness, referring to the situation in NSW, commented that CRA 'does not provide
people with flexibility as to location. People have to go where the poor
housing is and strangely enough, low-cost housing is way out of the way of any
The Queensland Government also noted that the private market for low income
households is in decline – 'when combined with the decline in social housing,
this inevitably means that an increasing number of households will face higher
levels of housing stress and poverty'.
argued that the Commonwealth's shift in funding priorities away from public
housing programs to demand driven programs like CRA may be counter-productive
in the longer term. As Table 6.1 indicates, Commonwealth expenditures on the
CRA have increased substantially in real terms since the 1990s, whereas
expenditures on the CSHA have declined over the same period. The Queensland
Government stated that in fiscal terms, there is evidence that over the longer
term, housing needs can be more efficiently addressed through capital based
programs rather than recurrent programs as capital programs create a portfolio
of dwellings that can assist many households over time. Furthermore, the
portfolio can be realigned over time through upgrades, sales and new
constructions to remain responsive to changing client profiles –'in contrast,
demand driven programs such as income supplements represent cash payments with
no resulting asset and no capacity to provide ongoing assistance over the long
term. The move towards income supplements may therefore ultimately result in
greater costs to governments'.
6.49 Equity issues
were also raised in relation to CRA, as it only assists some income support
recipients and only those in the private rental market. People experiencing
hardship purchasing a home are not assisted, nor are low income working households
assisted with private rental costs. Some witnesses argued that CRA should be
extended to these groups.
6.50 Despite the
criticisms of the program, several groups acknowledged that CRA does assist
private renters with the cost of rental accommodation, at least to some degree.
It was also argued that CRA needs to be increased to keep pace with rent
A major concern, however, related to the possibility that increases in CRA
would result in landlords 'creaming off' the increase by putting rents up as
soon as CRA was increased with the result that there would be no improvement in
affordability for low income renters. This concern was not necessarily
supported by evidence that suggests that increases in CRA have not led to
corresponding increases in rents. Data from FaCS indicates that from June 2000
to June 2002, average CRA payments increased by 16 per cent, while average
rents for CRA recipients increased by 12 per cent. By comparison the CPI
increased by 9 per cent in the two years to March 2002.
6.51 A review of CRA
was called for in a number of submissions. The Tenants Union of Victoria argued
that such a review should address the effectiveness of CRA as a housing program
in improving affordability and access; the cost of the program; the relationship
of CRA to income support and to the private rental market; and the eligibility
6.52 The Committee is
concerned at the Commonwealth Government's shift in policy emphasis from social
housing to CRA, especially as this policy shift has not addressed affordability
and access issues for low income people attempting to rent in the private
market. The Committee believes that the overall operations of CRA, especially
in relation to access and affordability for low income households, should be reviewed
as part of the Committee's recommendation for a national housing strategy.
Private investment in low-cost
6.53 A number of
submissions argued that the Commonwealth should develop strategies to increase
the level of private finance directed to providing affordable housing for low
income earners. There are a range of schemes that have been proposed but these
were not canvassed in any detail during the inquiry.
SACOSS suggested the introduction of tax credit arrangements for investment in
It was also emphasised that initiatives in this area should be in addition to a
commitment by governments to maintain a viable social housing sector.
argued that there should be greater encouragement for low income households to
purchase their own homes. The Tenants Union of Victoria argued that home
ownership remains the most cost-effective housing tenure for all households. It
is the only tenure that ensures that housing costs reduce over the lifetime of
the household, as purchasers pay out their mortgages and secure a substantial
asset as a result.
The Tasmanian Government offers assistance for home ownership by providing
access to finance through its Home Ownership Assistance Program (HOAP) and
equity grants to assist public housing tenants to purchase their homes.
Eligibility under the HOAP is restricted to those earning $700 per week or less
and the maximum loan is set at $80 000.
6.55 The Commonwealth's
First Home Owner Grant (FHOG), which provides a non-means tested grant to
eligible first homebuyers, was criticised by some groups, essentially because
of the untargeted nature of the program. It was also argued the FHOG may have
simply assisted households who would have purchased a home anyway to do so
earlier, rather than providing a genuine opportunity for low income households
to buy a home.
Some submissions argued that the scheme should be replaced with a subsidy for
social and low cost housing.
Tenants' rights and tenancy
6.56 A number of
concerns were expressed during the inquiry that the rights of tenants were
being undermined by the increasing abuse of residential tenancy databases by
real estate agents. Concerns included inappropriate listings, unfair or poor
database operating practices and privacy concerns. The Tenants Union of
Victoria stated that:
The difficulty with those databases is that they still operate
in a largely unregulated environment. The information exchange is not subject
to the scrutiny that it should be to ensure that at least, if it is about
management of risk on the part of lessors, there is not unnecessary
discrimination against tenants. What we would certainly see as necessary is
greater regulation of those databases.
tenancy databases are lists of tenants who real estate agents believe to be bad
tenancy risks. Real estate agents who subscribe to a tenancy database can use
the database to check the names of prospective tenants, or to list details of
tenants they believe are a bad tenancy risk. A number of tenancy databases
operate in Australia – these include the Tenancy Information Centre Australasia
(TICA), RP Data, Remington White and Tenant Reference Australia.
6.58 Tenants may be
listed on a tenancy database for a range of reasons. For example, the TICA
website lists a range of potential breaches including rental arrears or
breaking a lease; poor periodic inspections; or dishonoured cheques. The
website also explains how long tenant details will remain on the database.
Tenants who allegedly breach their tenancy agreement but who do not have a debt
are listed for 3 years. If a tenant has an alleged debt their name remains on
the database until the debt is paid. When a debt is cleared this is noted on
the TICA database but the tenant's personal details will remain on the database
for a further 5 years.
6.59 A particular
concern raised during the inquiry was that some people had problems accessing
rental accommodation after being placed on tenancy databases.
One witness stated that '...discrimination is a significant part of the private
rental market, so what tends to happen is information can very quickly be used
to exclude someone from housing'.
A Queensland Government report found that there is a very real risk that any
adverse database listing will render it difficult for a tenant to secure
appropriate private rental accommodation. This is particularly so if the rental
market is experiencing a period of low vacancy and competition for
accommodation is high.
6.60 The Tenants
Union of Queensland cited a number of concerns with tenancy databases. These
- There are currently no requirements on database operators to
verify information listed on the database. Tenants can therefore be listed for
trivial or retaliatory reasons.
- Real estate agents and database operators have no legal obligation
to notify tenants that they have been listed on a tenancy database.
- Tenants do not have an automatic right to access, change or
delete information on the database. If tenants want to dispute a listing they
must negotiate with the agent who listed them. Only the listing agent has the
power to remove, delate or amend information on tenants.
operators and real estate agents have respective responsibilities for the
collection, use and disclosure of data under the provisions of the Privacy
Act 1988 and must comply with the National Privacy Principles that cover
the fair handling of private information. The Tenants Union of Queensland
claimed, however, that database operators often fall short of the voluntary
6.62 There have been
calls for a co-ordinated approach in the development of national guidelines
applicable to the operation of tenancy databases. A Queensland Government
Backbench Committee argued that a national approach was the most desirable
outcome for both tenants and the industry through the application of national
standards, possibly by way of template legislation. The Committee suggested
that a mechanism to achieving national standards could be through respective
Ministerial Councils as well as the convening of a forum as a starting point
for a national working group of relevant Commonwealth and State departmental
officers. The Committee argued that with the development of national databases,
together with the mobility of the Australian population, individual State
responses will be less effective and equitable than a national response.
The Real Estate Institute of Australia has also called for the development of
national guidelines governing the operation of tenancy databases. The Institute
stated that 'consumers have a right to know what information about them is kept
on a database and to have information corrected swiftly if information is
inaccurate on any database kept by a database operator or agent'.
6.63 In December 2003
the NSW Government released draft regulations to ensure the fairer use of
tenancy databases by real estate agents in NSW. The draft regulations provide
that an agent must notify a tenant that they are going to be listed on a
tenancy database; tenants are to be given a reasonable opportunity to review
and correct information which will be listed; a tenant can only be listed on a
database for specified reasons, such as owing rent exceeding the rental bond;
an agent must notify a database operator within 7 days after becoming aware
that a debt listed on that database has been paid; and an agent can only use a
database if the database provides tenants with free access to information about
themselves, amends inaccurate, out of date or incomplete information without
charge to the tenant, and deletes listings within certain specified periods of
time. It is proposed that the new laws will come into effect in May 2004.
6.64 The Committee
notes that the Commonwealth Attorney-General announced in August 2003 the
establishment of a joint working group involving the Standing Committee of
Attorneys-General and the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs to examine
issues surrounding tenancy databases.
Specifically, the working group will report on the role and operation of these
databases; examine the existing framework for regulating the use of databases
with regard to issues relevant to tenants, database operators, real estate
agents and landlords; and develop, where necessary, options for a nationally
The working group is due to report in June 2004. The Committee supports the
aims of this review and considers that a national approach to residential
tenancy databases is urgently needed.
6.65 That, in
supporting the current review being undertaken by the working group into residential
tenancy databases, the Commonwealth Government, in co-operation with the
States, develop national guidelines as a matter of priority in relation to the
operation of tenancy databases.
National housing strategy
6.66 Evidence to the
inquiry indicated that the Commonwealth should play a key role in co-ordinating
a process to advance national housing outcomes, and in particular, to respond
to the emerging crisis in the supply of affordable housing for low income
groups. It was argued that there was a need for the development of a national
housing strategy as part of this process. The Queensland Government stated:
Currently, there is no national housing policy framework. On the
contrary, there is a divergence between the Commonwealth and State/Territory housing
policy directions. An agreed policy framework and funding priorities...would
maximise the use of public funds and deliver improved housing outcomes for
those most in need.
6.67 The Tenants
Union of Victoria also pointed to the need for a coordinated and strategic
policy approach at the Commonwealth level – 'current housing policy initiatives
are dispersed across departments and Ministers, leading to a lack of strategic
focus, and minimising the potential for effective outcomes'.
6.68 ACOSS argued
that such a strategy should be developed with the aim of ensuring that all
households have access to appropriate and affordable housing, particularly low
income households. The elements of the strategy would include specific
strategies to achieve growth in the supply of affordable housing through both
public and private investment, rental and home ownership; an increase in the
supply of public housing; development of housing affordability measures; and
addressing discrimination issues, including the development of core principles
for good private rental market management and monitoring of residential tenancy
Submissions emphasised that the strategy needed to be developed in consultation
with State Governments, community housing providers, the construction industry
and the finance sector.
6.69 The Committee is
strongly of the view that the Commonwealth needs to take a co-ordinating role,
in consultation with the States and other key stakeholders, in the development
of a national housing strategy. This strategy should aim to ensure that low
income and disadvantaged households, in particular, have access to appropriate
and affordable housing.
6.70 That the
Commonwealth Government develop a national housing strategy in consultation
with key stakeholders including State Governments, community housing providers,
the construction industry and the finance sector; and that this national
development of specific strategies to achieve growth in the supply of affordable
housing through both public and private investment, particularly for low income
- a review of
the effectiveness of Commonwealth Rent Assistance in providing affordability
and access to the private rental market; and
- a review of the relative funding priorities in relation to social
housing and Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page