News: A manifesto for Generation Rent

Published in the SMH, Tuesday 21 February 2017

"Affordability, that's what we've got on offer here today," announces the auctioneer of a two-bedroom flat 12 kilometres from the CBD with a guide price of $650,000.

"For those entering the market, and for investors, it ticks all the boxes," he continues, opening a frenzied bidding session that doesn't stop until $780,000.

And herein lies the entire problem with Australia's faulty housing market.

Every weekend, first home buyers and investors duke it out to snare a modestly sized piece of the great Australian dream.

And it's clear who is winning.

Despite banks tightening investor loan criteria, lending to investors is again pushing up against the bank regulator's 10 per cent annual growth speed limit.

Meanwhile, first home buyers are in retreat. After signing one in three of all new home loans in 2009, first time buyers signed just one in seven loans written last December.

Outbid and out borrowed, young Australians are staying longer than ever in the rental housing market, where life is far from peaceful.

A survey of renters released last week by consumer group Choice, National Shelter and an alliance of tenant unions unearthed widespread fear of eviction.

The Reserve Bank's new assistant governor economic, Luci Ellis, also weighed into the debate last week.

According to Ellis, almost one in five renters moved more than five times in the past decade – that's once every two years.

"I question whether all those moves by renters were desired by those households. Many renters are happy with their current home, but are required to move because the lease expired or the landlord sold the property."

"If we are concerned about inequality of housing outcomes, perhaps we should focus less on the type of tenure, and more on security of tenure."

Amen Ellis.

So here it is, my simple four-point manifesto to help improve the lives of Generation Rent:

1. Abolish "no grounds" evictions

Simply advocating longer leases than the standard six or 12-month period is not the answer, risking trapping renters in bad living situations. A better solution, according to tenants unions, is to remove the "no grounds" provision that allows landlords to evict tenants for no reason – albeit only when the fixed lease has expired and with standard notice periods applying.

To protect owners, the allowable grounds for eviction should be widened and made more explicit, including if the property is sold, or if an owner is moving back in. But landlords should not have the power to evict for no reason, as this is often the way problematic tenants – including those who ask for repairs or those with complex needs – are dealt with.

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