The houses we can't afford

How many houses can one politician own? When young people are struggling to own a single home, the situation is an outrage that shows politicians are out of touch.

By Sophie Trevitt
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Much has been made of the growing protest vote, of folks — both here and abroad — who are disillusioned and disaffected by politicians who they feel are out of touch, and of the bubbling anger at the ‘elites.’ And is it any wonder when we have politicians like Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan who own a whopping 33 properties? Our Prime Minister owns six, Nick Xenophon has collected a tidy portfolio of eight, Nationals MP David Gillespie owns 18 and collectively our federal MPs have amassed a sizeable $370 million stake in the property market. 

These figures are extraordinary on their own (and, as has been pointed out, if it were any other kind of investment of this size we would surely be outraged over the clear conflict of interest) but they are all the more galling in light of the extraordinary housing affordability crisis facing young people, people on the disability support pension, older Australians on the age pension and single parents right across the country.  

While The Australian was quick to point the finger at young people’s preference for smashed avo on toast over responsible property purchases, the Anglicare Rental Snapshot released a few weeks ago showed that the housing affordability crisis has reached such critical levels that households are being forced to choose between paying rent and paying for other essentials like electricity, transport and — you guessed it — food.

Do you even rent?

If you’ve ever met a young person, you’d know that for most of us the prospect of buying a home seems fanciful. What is less discussed is the fact that renting is almost as far fetched a proposition. The Rental Affordability Snapshot report found that less than one per cent of properties were affordable for people on Centrelink payments or earning the minimum wage.

As Buzzfeed aptly summarised, if you are a single person living in Western Australia, Sydney, Brisbane, the ACT or the Northern Territory there is not a single property that is considered affordable for you to live in. None. Zilch. Nada. Things are pretty dire in regional areas too. If you’re single and on Youth Allowance, you have the slim pickings of 0.02% of the property market — better than 0% but not by much. 

And, even if you are able to find affordable housing to rent, or — more likely — if you sacrifice other things in order to afford unaffordable housing, the challenges are often just beginning. As was revealed through the barrage of stories shared through Greens MP Jenny Leong’s ‘Rental Horror Stories’ campaign; tenants are forced to live in unacceptable conditions due to the highly competitive property market. Sydney-siders shared stories of “broken floorboards, rats, mould, fleas, leaking rooves, and huge rent increases” that they put up with in order to hold on to their precarious place in the Sydney property market.

Vested interests

The thing is, the solution to the housing crisis isn’t particularly complex. However, the people able to fix it are the ones who benefit from its current, gross distortion. We need more public and social housing, and we must end negative gearing and scale back the capital gains tax discounts if we want to live in a society where everyone has the right, and ability, to access safe and secure housing — not just the super rich. 

Read our National Housing Roadmap

Sophie Trevitt has been the Convenor of the ACT Greens, a National Councillor and a parliamentary staffer for Senators Christine Milne and Richard Di Natale, and ACT Greens MLAs Shane Rattenbury and Caroline Le Couteur.

She is currently doing her legal placement in Alice Springs and, like most young people, will not be buying a house any time soon.