What about the renters?

Opinion Piece

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Photo: Panel at the Renters’ Forum on 25 August at the Cavanbah Centre, Byron Bay organised by Tamara Smith. Left to Right: Jenny Leong,  Panel MC and Greens MP for Newtown (in Sydney), Mary Flowers from Northern Rivers Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, Tony Davies, CEO of Social Futures, Estelle Graham, CEO of Anglicare North Coast and John McKenna CEO of North Coast Community Housing.

 

Having a home is a basic need. It’s more than simply having a roof over our head. A home is where we make memories with our families, our friends. It’s where we feel safe and comfortable. It’s where we will create connections with our neighbours and our community. We create our life around our home.

 

 

With the price of houses now becoming beyond the reach of many people, more and more of us are renting for longer and longer – some will be renting for life.

The reality is that in NSW, 31 % of the population is renting (Census 2016), a statistic that is mirrored in Byron Shire with 30.8% of the population renting, paying the equivalent of 64 % of the median household income.

The housing stressors on renters are high rents, (more than 30% of their income), no-grounds evictions which is unfair for renters who want long-term rental security and rents increasing regularly but not capped at the rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index as it is in many countries around the world. There is no home safety in renting.

Together the groups CHOICE, National Association of Tenants Associations and Shelter undertook a national survey in February 2017. They found that 8% of Australian renters have experienced a ‘no grounds’ eviction during their time renting. Renters in NSW are more likely to receive one - in NSW alone there are least 160,000 who will lose their home while renting.

In Byron Bay many renters experience a “no grounds” eviction just around the start of the summer season. Then they discover the  house they used to live in being rented to holiday makers at a much higher rate for the next 3 to 6 months.  The most vulnerable are the renters on low-income or with complex needs, they accept less stable and less secure or substandard accommodation and are much more at risk of being evicted and of experiencing homelessness.
Trying to find affordable rental properties,  “no-grounds” evictions, rent increases and renters who reported experiencing discrimination if they asked for repairs are the most common stories I hear in my office .

Last Friday I held a Renters’ forum in Byron Bay and our panel discussed the changes needed in order to make renting a more secure long term option.

We know that being a renter, dealing with the challenges around finding a place to rent, putting in requests for maintenance and coping with the threat of constantly having to move, all have a serious impact on people’s well-being.

The panel discussed needing to put an end to “no grounds” eviction, because being given notice with no explanation can be extremely frustrating. Having a list of reasons and asking the landlord to nominate one of them is a start.  This would not stop or hinder landlords being able to evict bad tenants.

The Renters’ Forum heard that there is no long term institutional letting, our rental market is based on “mum and dad” owners who rent out one or more properties and then sell when they are ready to retire. A genuine shift in government thinking is needed – housing needs to be treated as an infrastructure investment, the same way that roads, schools and hospitals are. The government needs to invest more in social housing and in housing with affordable rents. Affordable housing needs to be a percentage of every new major housing development. The Greens would like to see a minimum of 30% of social and affordable housing for new developments by private investors and much higher rates where the land is owned by State government or Council.

Government also needs to look at more arrangements where the government or social housing organisations own houses and charge rents that are a percentage of someone’s income so that the rent is truly affordable.

Another key factor the Renters’ Forum heard was density of housing. No one wants the tower block development of the Gold Coast in this region but we do have many houses that sit on relatively large blocks of expensive land. By increasing the density of housing on such blocks - with housing that is well designed and suitable to the occupants’ needs – it opens up more housing for people who need it.

If you need help with a tenancy problem contact the Northern Rivers Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service (http://northernriversclc.org.au/tenant-services/ or phone 1800 649 135) who help tenants and residential park residents understand their rights.

For more information on the renters rights campaign see http://www.rentersrights.org.au/

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