Friday, December 19, 2014

Tenancy advice over the Christmas-New Year period

That's it for another year. The TU and the TAASs are taking a break over the Christmas-New Year period, but a couple of elves will be answering our hotline.

Tenants' Union of NSW Christmas – New Year Hotline

 8117 3750


 1800 251 101

The hotline is open 22 December – 2 January (except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day), from 10 am – 5 pm (except 1 pm – 2 pm, for the elves' lunch).

There's also our Tenants Rights Factsheets, and our Tenants Rights Manual, available 24/7. 

If you're spending Christmas with relatives, you might like to bone up on some topics of conversation for the dinner table – say:
Seasons greetings, thanks for reading, and see you next year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rent Tracker - Sneak peek

We've previously written about the various ways people can track rent movements in Sydney. We plan to continue this practice in our new series "Rent Tracker."

This is a brief sneak peek while we work on adding all sorts of improvements. We've two substantial changes to note.

Previously, we tracked the 'asking rents' reported by APM against the rents tenants actually pay, as presented in the Rent and Sales Report and in the CPI - Sydney Rents series.

For this and subsequent issues, we've added two new 'asking rent' trackers - CoreLogic RP Data (until very recently known as RP Data), and SQM Research.

To make it easy for you, we'll be keeping these colours for each series in all our graphs! Clicking on each graph will get you the bigger version.
First, let's introduce CoreLogic RP Data and SQM Research.

Both are independent data researchers that primarily focus on property. CoreLogic is an international group that acquired RP Data in 2011, but only recently changed the name to match.

We will primarily be looking at RP Data's Quarterly Rental Reviews, or Quarterly Property Reports where the Review is unavailable.

SQM Research publishes a Weekly Asking Rents Index on their website, which will be the source of data for them. SQM publish prices for all houses, and 3 br houses, all units and 2 bedroom units. For consistency with the other measures, we will be using their all houses and all units measures. SQM publish a methodology for their index here.

Both CoreLogic RP Data and SQM Research primarily scour property listing websites for asking rents to gather their data.

Sydney Rents

First, median rents for houses and units for the last 18 months, and the difference between asking rents and actual rents is noticeable.We've adjusted for inflation to September 2014 here, which produces a flatter image, though the slow rise is clear as well. 

SQM prices houses at a much higher level than other data houses, we'll be seeking comment from them. Interestingly, their unit prices are lower than even the Rent and Sales Report.

We're also looking at producing a couple of indexes to try and give an broader perspective on the narrative that gets played out in the media whenever rent prices are reported on. The following graphs show one of two ways of we'll use to indexing our five data series. The indices purpose is to try and represent movement, rather than merely the data points of the series.

These indices demonstrate the relative movements of rent prices together. This represents clearly that the actual rents have been rising much faster than the asking rents would suggest, particularly in houses, and particularly with APM but certainly all three asking rent series show flat periods while the actual rents catch up. This becomes an issue when the media narrative describes flat periods in prices, when we should be talking about how much more unaffordable rents are getting!

We'll begin to look at what all this means in the New Year, and look forward to bringing you more numbers, including regional reporting, in subsequent instalments!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The shape of the private rental market: update

We've been discussing the changing shape of the private rental market, with reference to some graphs provided by Judy Yates from her research. That research is now published.

We'll discuss it in more detail in future post; for now, here's our new favourite graph on the changing shape of the market, showing how the market is both growing absolutely, and growing more expensive.

See how the market, pumped up on speculator-steroids such as negative gearing, is lurching up the scale of rents.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hear no evil, see no evil

Following the release of the social housing discussion paper last month, we've spent a little bit of time talking about the private rental market. We've felt a real need to, because the many issues we encounter in the private sector are apparently not within the scope of the discussion - even while it blithely assumes this market will pick up any shortfall caused by making social housing harder to get into and even harder to keep...

The department of Family and Community Services has decided to focus its attention very narrowly on the social housing system itself, rather than exploring just how it operates within - and is constrained by - the broader housing system.

But the paper does provide some opportunities to take the discussion down that more useful path. For instance, it says at one point that "while costs have increased, revenues under the income-based rent model have not kept pace with market rent and have declined relative to growing operating costs". Another way of looking at this is that, by their very definition, social housing rents have kept pace with incomes, but the private rental market has left low incomes behind.

We've talked about this on the Brown Couch, ad nauseam, but it seems it's time to go over it all again... We struggle to maintain a functional social housing system because of the way private housing works.

Here’s why:

1. Australian houses are a tax haven
Home owners don’t pay tax on any increase in the value of their homes, and landlords are allowed to offset rental losses against their taxable incomes. But everyone pays tax on savings and other capital gains, so anyone with the capacity to borrow is encouraged to pile into the housing market instead. Squirreling those excess dollars into savings, or investing in a new venture of some kind, is no way to make money – speculating on house price gains is. And the more who do it, the higher values can go. This is great news for anyone who can afford it... but not so great for those who can't.

2. Low taxed housing leads to fewer properties and higher rents
Landlords are encouraged to spend more borrowed money on holding property than they receive in rent. By doing this, they can reduce their taxable income, making day-to-day losses easier to wear. But the real incentive is the prospect of capital gains, or the idea that the value of property increases faster than the value of money. Landlords who follow this logic tend to buy properties that will quickly rise in value – usually established homes in well-served areas, and very rarely new built homes. They pass over low value/low gain properties when they come up for sale, so they drop out of the rental market. For tenants, such properties becomes harder to find, and more expensive to rent.

3. High cost housing leads to more people renting for longer
As property values rise many people are priced out of home-ownership, and remain in the rental market for longer – even though they may be on good incomes. Higher-income households compete with those on low-incomes for fewer properties to rent at low cost. They usually win. There are not enough affordable properties left over for low-income households, putting pressure on our social housing system.

4. High cost housing means social housing is expensive, too
With affordable housing disappearing from the private rental market, and demand for social housing on the rise, government investment is urgently needed. But with property values so high that's more easily said than done. Social housing has been in decline in New South Wales for the last two decades. We have a system that is difficult to expand and expensive to run, but easy to cash-in because of its value. We need investment and improvement, but we’re seeing sell-offs instead…

5. So social housing is monitored and rationed…
Social housing landlords are left to do more with less. Assistance is targeted to those with the greatest need for housing, which just restricts its availability while demand continues to grow. In this declining system social housing landlords become obsessed with monitoring performance and reviewing tenants’ needs, looking for every opportunity to put their resources to maximum use. In the result, tenants must be vigilant to promote their own needs as the most acute and chronic, or they might just lose their home.


Unfortunately, the Social Housing in NSW discussion paper really just enforces our final point. It's yet another plea for our social housing system to do more with less, but it's difficult to see how tenant independence, and a fair and sustainable housing system, can be encouraged by turning the screws ever more tightly.

For more information on the changing shape of the private rental market - as referenced in our second point above - see this post from earlier in the year.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sydney’s Concrete Poetry

Today's guest appearance is from Mary Sutton, a resident of Millers' Point. We are very pleased to be able to share her presentation made to the Getting Serious about Sirius event at NSW Parliament House in November. It is a long read, but well worth it- so settle in and enjoy!

Sirius is prominently located right in the middle of The Rocks, a Sydney conservation precinct. I'm pleased to speak today about the historical importance of the Sirius apartment complex and its site. I'm Mary Sutton and I've always loved the Sirius building for its;-impressive sandstone hill site,
-bold architecture,
-innovative adaptation of art, and
-collaborative design

All elements that have seamlessly combined to provide treasured homes for the residents since Sirius was constructed in 1979. 

    Sirius was built following a lengthy period of discussions and negotiations. Sirius arose out of The Rocks 1970’s Green bans, a movement prominently associated with Jack Mundey, a later patron of the Friends of the Historic Houses Trust. 

    Richard Roddewig, in his book ‘Green Bans: The Birth of Australian Environmental Politics - A Study in Public Opinion and Participation’, writes
    ‘In 1975, a major compromise was reached. Green Bans were lifted on three specific sites. The Sydney Cove Redevelopment Cove Authority, in conjunction with The Housing Commission of New South Wales, proposed to develop on one of the sites as eighty housing units, in a medium-rise, nine-story building, for affordable income persons’.

    A welcoming brochure was produced in 1979 for the newly housed residents by The Housing Commission of New South Wales. The brochure proudly noted that:
    ‘The stepped roofline and face of the building were planned to blend and harmonise in good neighbourly fashion with the general roofscape of The Rocks. Shading precast concrete sills surround bronze anti-sun glass resiliently mounted to reduced noise and glare.
    The new building has been named “Sirius” in honour of the First Fleet, HMS “Sirius” and her commander, Captain Arthur Phillip. Off the main entrance foyer is a large community room,the “Phillip Room” with generous outdoor plaza, tasteful furnishings, kitchen facilities & toilets.
    The Housing Commission’s apartment building makes a spectacular addition to the transformation and restoration of The Rocks, Sydney’s most historic neighbourhood, near where in the early days the Tank Stream, flowing into the bay, provided drinking water for the tiny new colony. Cave shelters, humpies, stone cottages~all were stuff of the Colony’s history.’

    As my fellow speaker Charles Pickett, a curator and noted architecture author has just commented
    ‘A small number of public housing towers were ground-breaking architecturally and widely influential. Some public housing complexes were so successful architecturally that they eventually became sought-after and expensive addresses. Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation at Marseille, Lafayette Park, Detroit by Mies van der Rohe and London’s Barbican Estate are perhaps the best known. For much of the twentieth century the Australian housing authorities also worked at the cutting edge of housing theory and practice. Sirius is a success story of public housing design.
    Sirius is a special building – not generic in format like much public housing, Sirius shows the potential of architecture geared to its site and its residents. It deserves to continue to be a part of The Rocks. ’

    Most mornings I stroll along Gloucester Walk in The Rocks with Sirius sitting high on the prominent land of Bunkers Hill. The Sirius building always looks imposing. I think of the Sirius building as ‘concrete poetry’. 

        Photographs taken from the 1979 residents ‘welcoming brochure’ (above and below) depict the simple, but innovative, off-form concrete walls, combined with acid-etched picture windows, to produce Sirius’ distinct stabled building block appearance, reminiscent ‘of a Native American pueblo’.

          Sirius shares ‘the magnificent panorama of the harbour in all its moods, the exciting city skyline, and nestling against the Harbour Bridge approaches…..just across the water from the famed Opera House.’

          Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to showcase what some may call an ‘unpolished diamond’ to the seven members of the NSW Government's Legislative Council Housing Select Committee.
          Thank you to The Hon Paul Green [Chair] and the members of the Upper House Committee for taking the time to see first hand why the Sirius building is an architectural, heritage and mixed tenure, social housing success - a cost effective asset for Sydney - the best example I know of 'Concrete Poetry'. 

          The Sirius apartment building is named after Governor Phillip's First Fleet vessel, HMS Sirius - a vessel scarcely larger than a Manly ferry - an adventurous little vessel that traversed the world's seas with its unwilling passengers to arrive in Sydney in January 1788. 

          Sadly, this crucial supply vessel was sunk at Norfolk Island whilst landing vital food supplies and lost forever to the fledging Sydney Cove community on 19 March, 1790. George Raper, a naval officer and illustrator, recorded this melancholy event in his wonderful drawing held by the National Library of Australia and depicted in the drawing (below courtesy of National Library of Australia) you have today. 

            We are now gathered because of a second equally significant 19 March Sirius event – an announcement by the NSW Government earlier this year on that date that is writing another chapter in the history of the Sirius building. 

            What I'd like you to consider today is what makes Sirius and its site so notable. I must start by noting that the Sirius building sits prominently on land owned by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) and part of the answer to the question, I think, lies with the vision of SHFA "to make unique places in Sydney that the world talks about". 

            ‘Does the Sirius building and its location satisfy this SHFA vision?’ you might ask. ‘Is the Sirius building and its location a ‘unique place in Sydney that the world talks about’? It seems ‘yes’.
            We have heard much today of the uniqueness of the Sirius building, particularly its architecture and concrete construction and its international recognition as such.

             There is also much historical evidence of the uniqueness of Sirius’ Bunkers Hill location, as depicted in:
            * the earliest colonial drawings of
            -John Eyre,
            -Jacob Janssen,
            -Thomas Watling,
            -Richard Read,
            -Joseph Lycett,
            -Conrad Martens, and
            -Frederick Garling,
            * Governors' Phillip, Hunter and King's official Colony papers, and
            * all the way through to the sights and sounds as you stroll along Gloucester Walk today, as many Sydney and international visitors do. 

              Richard Read ‘View from Bunkers Hill Including Dawes Battery, Fort Lachlan & South Head Lighthouse’ c.1820 Mitchell Library (above)
              Conrad Martens ‘View Sydney Cove from Bunkers Hill July 2, 1836’ Mitchell Library of NSW (above)
              From what we've just heard from some of the other speakers, there is no doubt in my mind that the Sirius building and its location are unique places in Sydney that the world talks about – something that SHFA and the residents of Sydney and Australia can quite rightly be proud of.
              The Sirius building and its location are social, tourism, educational, cultural, commercial and conservation assets for NSW.

              The world has talked of Sirius' and it location in many ways, including:
              1. The opportunistic sailor who foundered the colonial whaling industry and sometime Liverpool, Hawkesbury River and Hunter Valley farmer, Ebenezer (Eber) Bunker, is said by Governor Hunter to have ‘cultivated in a style one would expect from a sailor’, (SMH 2/3/29). Captain Bunker was granted the site on which the majority of the Sirius complex now stands, for some services to Governor King, a site that was known until at least the 1830's as Bunkers Hill. 

              Eber Bunker was a master mariner and landholder credited with being the "father of Australian whaling".  The Sydney Morning Herald of 2 March 1929 records, ‘On his vessel being moored in Port Jackson in 1791 he had an interview with Governor Phillip and astounded that gentleman by his calculations of the possible great profits for a whaling industry for the new settlement…..Within six months he had secured 600 barrels of oil to enhance the interests of the Colony ( and no doubt himself).’ 

              Bunker’s arrival in New South Wales in 1791 was as master of the ship “William and Ann" (with 185 involuntary passengers aboard), one of the whalers chartered to bring early prisoners to ‘Botany Bay’. He then went whaling in the South Seas and he later accompanied the "Lady Nelson" in the vessel "Albion" to establish the Derwent settlement in Tasmania in 1803. 

              Bunker brought his family to the Colony in the "Elizabeth" in August 1806. He became a landholder at Bunkers Hill, Liverpool, Bankstown on the Hawkesbury and the Hunter Valley. Bunker had built a stone house and stores atop Bunkers Hill (replacing his earlier wattle and daub c. early 1800’s structure) and from this high ground in The Rocks with views to the Heads, Kirribilli and the Parramatta River, Eber ran his global whaling empire.

                Watercolour Eber Bunker, c.1810. Courtesy State Library of New South Wales

                Eber Bunker’s achievements in having the world talk about him also included presenting the first West Australian black swan to the King of England and some cumbersome limited use weaponry to Hawaii's king to support a request ‘to be kind to the missionaries’, (SMH 2/3/29), together with naming Bunkers Islands in Queensland and various New Zealand islands. 

                Eber Bunker’s house stood on Gloucester Street at Bunkers Hill from 1806, later hemmed in by taller, more elegant terraces, with his house being demolished around 1912 as part of the Rocks reconstruction works (Sirius was built on the central part of this land in 1977-1979).

                2. The HMS “Sirius” association represents a tangible link to the most significant vessel associated with early migration of European people to Australia and to the “Sirius” midshipman, Captain Henry Waterhouse, a godson of Prince Henry, the younger brother of King George lll. Some short time after his arrival in the Colony, Captain Waterhouse was granted land on which the northern apartments of the present Sirius complex now sit. HMS “Sirius” was guardian of the first fleet during its epic voyage to Australia between 1787 and 1788, which brought the convicts, soldiers and sailors who became Australia’s first permanent European settlers.

                HMS “Sirius” was also the mainstay of early colonial defence in New South Wales and the primary supply and communication link with Great Britain during the first two years of the settlement (Source: Heritage Council of Australia).

                The careers of the first three governors’ of the colony of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip (1788-1792), John Hunter (1795-1800) and Philip Gidley King (1800-1806) are closely associated with the history of HMS “Sirius” as all three sailed as senior officers on board HMS Sirius during the voyage of the first fleet to New South Wales. Hunter was also Captain of HMS “Sirius” during its last ill-fated voyage in 1790, when it was totally wrecked at Norfolk Island. The loss of HMS “Sirius” at Norfolk Island on 19 March 1790 was a disaster for the fledgling colony during a period of crisis, when the settlement at Port Jackson was in danger of collapse and abandonment.

                It has been argued by some that the adaptability, ingenuity and grim determination to survive, demonstrated by the colonists at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island following this disaster, became an enduring trait of the Australian people.

                3. Wharf Owner Robert Campbell, Cumberland Place, Bunkers Hill and Waterhouse Land.

                  F Garling’s c.1840 “Sydney Cove” a view towards Bunkers Hill (center), Lower Fort St and Dawes Battery Mitchell Library
                  Captain Waterhouse left Australia permanently in 1800 and leased his grant covering part of the Sirius site to Campbell Cove's famous wharf owner Robert Campbell. In the 1830’s the town leases, grants and permissive occupancies of the past were formalized and Robert Russell produced section plans showing the owners of the land (SHFA Heritage and Conservation Register). This part of the site remained unoccupied land until the 1840’s, as did much of Bunkers Hill land surrounding Bunker’s house in current Gloucester Walk. In the 1820's Robert Campbell developed the prestigious landholding of Cumberland Place, designed by Francis Greenway, on his Bunkers Hill land, adjacent to his Waterhouse grant and nearby wealthy Dawes Point wharf and landowners. Garling captures Bunker’s Hill c.1840 above.

                  4. The Mitchell Library's benefactor, David Mitchell, was born in 1836 in Campbell’s Bunkers Hill’s elegant ‘cottage ornee’ at Cumberland Place (since demolished) and Mitchell spent his childhood there before moving with his large library to modern digs in Darlinghurst. Mitchell famously collected colonial documents associated with Bunkers Hill, (Sirius' site) and all aspects of Colonial Sydney maps, art and memorabilia to found the Mitchell Library Collection.

                  5. Australia’s first Prime Minister Edward Barton lived as a child in the 1850’s in one of the Young’s townhouses. This four storied townhouse (three stories with a basement kitchen) was one of a terrace of three houses built by Adolphus Young on land developed adjacent to Bunker's land on Gloucester Walk in the early 1840’s and may have been designed by John Verge’s protégé, John Bibb, (who also built the nearby Mariners Church). The imposing terrace of three homes survived until the early 1900's Rocks reconstruction project. This land forms part of the Sirius site today.

                  6. Innovative concrete technology and an early example of Australian public town planning can still be readily viewed as the Federal Electrical Company (Ajax Building) on the corner of Gloucester Walk and George Street – also a part of the “Sirius” Captain Waterhouse's land grant. This concrete technology and the Arts and Craft movement design of the building, was developed by the recently formed New South Wales Housing Board’s architect, William Henry Foggitt, in association with the Public Works Department, for The Rocks reconstruction works during the period 1912-15. Occupiers included Young and Stewart cordial manufacturers.

                  In January 1915, the Sydney Morning Herald reported this was the first building in Sydney to be constructed entirely of reinforced concrete. The building was a warehouse, with an office building on the top of the southern end of the building. Several bays of the building’s southern end and the office building were demolished when the Sirius complex was built. This inspirational concrete technology was later used on Millers Point’s High Street flats. Concrete's innovating impact was a feature of the inspirational Sirius building constructed by Anderson & Lloyd, described as a ‘bold and exceptional experiment’ in ‘Concrete’s Rearview’.

                    7. Sirius now sits on the location of a major employer in the Rocks, Rowans Bond and The Federal Electrical Company, (Ajax Building) that utilised modern loading and storage technology. 

                    8. Sirius was the 1986 setting for the movie of Ruth Park's popular novel ‘Playing Beatie Bow’.

                    Sirius in 2014- the continuing conversation
                    The most recent example of the world talking of the Sirius building, and its rare and important position in Sydney, was in response to the NSW Government's 19 March 2014 announcement of the sale of the Sirius building, which was reported in local and international press. 

                    People have also commented recently about the Select Committee's hard won recommendation, I think directed at the Sirius building, that the NSW Government, when selling multi-unit properties in the Sydney area, include in the contract for sale, a requirement that at least 10 per cent of all dwellings on that site be allocated as social, public and affordable housing.

                    Each unique aspect I've cited has stamped its mark on the Sirius building and its location as a rare and important place talked about in the world's press and by visitors. For me, I'm attracted to the description of the Sirius building as simply "concrete poetry".

                    I imagine that SHFA and all of Sydney must regard the interest in the Sirius building and its site, and modern day Bunkers Hill including Gloucester Walk, as an inspired and visionary success.
                    In concluding, you have heard much today about the Sirius building and its location and I invite you to walk around the Rocks and take time to ponder all that's been said.

                    Consider the "concrete poetry" of the Sirius building, its location and its history. Its connection to Sydney's past and the value of its contribution to the present and what may be its future. 

                    If you would like to continue the conversation, the Minister for Heritage, the Hon. Rob Stokes address is 52 Martin Place, Sydney 2000 and I'm sure he'd be interested in hearing your view.
                    Thank you for your time.

                      Photograph of Sirius Level 8 Balcony by Mary Sutton ~ March 12 2014 Site Visit with the Legislative Council Housing Select Committee

                      Thursday, December 4, 2014

                      Happy 20th birthday, TAASs

                      Twenty years ago this week the first generalist Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services commenced operations. This was the start of the State-wide network of local TAASs that continues to inform, advise and advocate for tenants throughout New South Wales today. We estimate that more than half a million tenants have gotten phone advice and other assistance from TAASs over that time.

                      NSW Fair Trading Minister Matthew Mason-Cox has kindly sent a warm note of congratulations on the anniversary:

                      NSW Fair Trading is proud of its association with the Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Service and the work it is doing to empower tenants. To provide a continuous community service for 20 years is a significant milestone and I congratulate the services and their staff for their continued dedication to ensuring all tenants are able to exercise their rights.

                      Now it's over to legendary tenants advocate and TU Older Tenants Project Officer, Dr Robert Mowbray, to tell the story of how the TAASs came to be.


                      Let’s jump back in time and see the circumstances around our birth. The earliest reference to a tenant organisation in New South Wales is the Rent Payers Association. They campaigned for fair rent legislation in the period 1910 to 1916 and also gave advice to tenants: ‘If you are in trouble about rent, ring up Telephone No. Paddington 752’.

                      In 1975 the Australian Government Commission of Inquiry into Poverty identified seven main areas in which tenants required assistance. The first was ‘access to informed advice on their legal position and on the rental market generally, both before and after entering into a residential lease’. The Poverty Inquiry was a fillip to the emergence of Tenants’ Unions in a number of states. So, in 1976 the Tenants’ Union of NSW was established.  In its early years it relied heavily on active members, social work students on placement, resources provided by South Sydney Community Aid (a neighbourhood centre in Redfern), and was assisted by a few young lawyers. It built up a network of volunteer tenancy advisors across a number of locations to provide information to tenants. At the same time it campaigned for fully funded services. 

                      In the 1980s, the Tenants’ Union was successful in lobbying the NSW State Labor Government's Housing Minister, Frank Walker, for the funding of the Housing Information and Tenancy Services (HITS) Program. This commenced 1 January 1986, and provided a network of nineteen Tenants’ Advice and Housing Referral Services (TAHRS) across New South Wales. The program, however, was short lived. In December 1988, following a change in government, the Coalition’s Minister for Housing, Joe Schipp, terminated the program – against the recommendations of his senior management.

                      Following cancellation of the HITS Program there was a constant pressure on the State Government for its reintroduction from a broad range of community groups across the State. The Uniting Church became actively involved in the campaign through its Board for Social Responsibility and it funded a tenants’ service in Western Sydney. Redfern Legal Centre also provided a tenants’ service. Part-time services were maintained by the local councils of North Sydney, Randwick and Waverley. Community groups maintained pressure over a period of years. Consultations about a State Plan for the Department of Housing in 1990, 1991 and 1992 were held at venues in all Department regions across New South Wales, and these consultations unanimously called for the reintroduction of funding for independent tenants’ services. Community groups made submissions to John Mant’s ‘Inquiry into Certain Customer Service Bodies under the Responsibility of the Minister for Housing’. His 1993 report was supportive.

                      By the end of November 1993, the NSW State Coalition Government had a new Minister for Housing, Robert Webster. The Minister called a meeting with representatives of the community organisations that had been lobbying for refunding of tenants’ services. At this meeting he stated that the Government would again fund community-based tenants’ services. He advised that he would set up a working party to examine how a Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program (TAAP) might be funded. Subsequently, the Department of Housing contracted the Tenants’ Union to resource a network of generalist services ... and the first generalist TAAS were funded from 1 December 1994. Specialist services for residents of residential parks and for Aboriginal tenants were funded in late 1995.

                      So, happy 20th birthday to all those TAASs out there!

                      For a glimpse at the enormous amount of help provided and lives changed by the TAASs, see our posts under the label ‘my3cents’. For the case for greater funding for the TAASs and more advice and advocacy for tenants, see the TU's policy and law reform page

                      Tuesday, December 2, 2014

                      The private rental market: awful numbers

                      Some numbers, from the 2011 Census.

                      • Households privately renting in New South Wales: 574 183
                      • Low-income households (ie bottom 40 per cent of incomes) privately renting in New South Wales: 219 202
                      • Low-income households paying more than 30 per cent of their incomes in rent (ie in 'housing stress'): 171 563
                      • Low-income households paying more than 50 per cent of their incomes in rent (ie in 'housing crisis'): 94 959

                       In other words:
                      • 78 per cent of low-income private renters are in housing stress; 43 per cent are in housing crisis
                      • of all households renting privately, 30 per cent are low-income households in housing stress; one in six are low-income households in housing crisis.

                      We presented these numbers in our recent discussion of the social housing discussion paper, but they deserve a post of their own.

                      Also noteworthy is the fact that these numbers are significantly higher than the National Housing Supply Council's figures for affordability problems in private rental housing (66 per cent in stress, 25 per cent in crisis) – figures we've referred to in previous posts and submissions. The new figures come from the ABS on special request by the TU, and we prefer them to the NHSC figures. We've counted as 'private renters' only households who are renting through a real estate agent or a person not in the same household; we understand the NHSC included in its count of 'private renters' households in community housing, which will bring down the rates of stress and crisis.

                      Looking at the numbers for the private rental market properly defined, we see a private rental market that fails appallingly to serve the needs of low-income households for affordable housing.

                      And, we might add, it fails expensively. For 15 years, private landlords have been running large and increasing losses ($1.2 billion in New South Wales in 20111-12, the most recent figures), primarily because of their debts. These losses are subsidised by the Australian Government through its generous tax treatment of negative gearing (we estimate about $360 million for New South Wales landlords in 2011-12, going by Grattan Institute's numbers).