Thursday, 10 December 2020
The rental affordability index released last week shows Hobart is still the most unaffordable city to rent in Australia. Indeed, despite amendments to residential tenancy laws during COVID-19 which, among other changes, prevent rent increases on residential tenancies, rents in Hobart have still risen 37 per cent over the past five years. Alarmingly, Deputy Speaker, these increases are significantly outpacing any growth in wages, because although household incomes in Tasmania are significantly lower than the national average, rents are only marginally lower than the mainland averages.
This gap between income and rental expenditure is only widening. For example, the weekly median rent for a unit in Hobart is currently $403 compared to that of a Melbourne unit at $384 a week. The latest CoreLogic report shows that Tasmanian incomes are $226 a week below the national average. In other words, we are required to pay more with less. The outrageous prices of Tasmanian rentals really boil down to one thing—the lack of supply. Indeed, Tasmania's vacancy rate is currently sitting at 0.6 per cent, while there are 3,373 Tasmanians on the waiting list for social housing, with priority applicants waiting an average of 64 months to be placed. The result is that over 8,000 households in the private rental market are in housing stress, and this is unacceptable.
Adding to this problem is the impact short-stay accommodation, such as Airbnb, is having on the rental market in Hobart. The lack of regulation in this area has led to more people converting their properties to short-term accommodation rather than making them available as long-term rentals—something that obviously is urgently needed in Hobart. In fact, a report released last week by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute shows that, worryingly, Hobart has the highest short-stay density in the country and one of the highest Airbnb densities in the world. University of Sydney housing researcher Professor Phibbs confirmed that 12 per cent of Hobart's rental market is dedicated to short-stay rentals. That's more than one in 10 properties that Hobart renters are locked out of.
Tasmania has some of the slackest regulations surrounding Airbnb. While many cities around the world are recognising the impact that Airbnb has on housing affordability and availability, the Tasmanian government and Hobart City Council are just bickering about who's responsible. Someone needs to take responsibility because the community is crying out for reform. It's crying out for stable, affordable and safe housing. It is simply unacceptable that there are thousands of Tasmanians in precarious housing situations. It is unacceptable that Tasmanians are sleeping rough, couch surfing or in unstable short-term accommodation. There was a story on the ABC on Tuesday reporting on a mother and her four children having to sleep in swags in her father's shed when they vacate their current rental in a matter of weeks.
Hobart's housing crisis is deeply entrenched and severe. As the CEO of the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania rightly puts it, this is the new normal. People are sitting back and waiting for a drop in prices. It's not going to occur. Frankly, we need dramatic changes in public policy and support from both the state and the federal governments. We need more crisis accommodation. We need more Housing Tasmania properties and other social housing. We need more supported accommodation for people with specific needs. We need tax reform, including watering down negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions. We need rent-to-buy public housing. We need a 30 per cent increase in Commonwealth rent assistance. We need permanent and improved grants and access to low-interest loans for first home buyers. And we need light rail to the northern suburbs to better link affordable housing with the city and jobs. As I said before, we must rein in Airbnb and not allow its growth to continue unchecked. In fact, we must return it to the original model, where locals can make a bit of extra money from spare rooms and granny flats. That way tourists to Hobart could enjoy an authentic local experience without Tasmanians being squeezed out of their own communities. Everybody should have access to safe, secure and affordable housing. The state and federal governments need to step up and do much better.