It’s long been regarded as the Australian dream to own your own home.
But new research has found, despite interest rates being at historic lows, growing numbers of Australians are giving up on that dream and renting instead.
And that is particularly true for many newly-arrived migrants, international students and refugees.
Michael Kenny reports.
The National Housing Supply Council says it is growing increasingly concerned over a shortage of affordable housing in Australia.
A new report from the federal policy advisory body says this is being particularly felt by would-be property buyers with low or insecure incomes, including newly-arrived migrants, refugees and many Indigenous Australians.
The Supply Council believes high property prices are forcing growing numbers of Australians to give up on getting a loan and instead compete in an increasingly unaffordable rental market.
The housing lobby group National Shelter says the federal government has made some progress in addressing the problem by investing 20 billion dollars in affordable housing over the past five years.
However the group’s chairman, Adrian Pisarski, believes some disadvantaged groups, like refugees, are still struggling to access affordable housing.
“We are seeing increasing rates of homelessness amongst those communities and what happens then is that people might find themselves some crisis accommodation and there is really just nowhere to move to once they are in that circumstance. It is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone on a low income. But people who are recent arrivals, or if they’ve come from countries that don’t have similar legal situations to the one we do in terms of tenancy law, they will also struggle as well.”
The National Housing Supply Council says their data show many newly-arrived migrants and refugees are renting, rather than purchase a home.
A study released last year from the Australian National University’s Demographic and Social Research Institute, showed 85 per cent of recent arrivals were renters.
The institute’s senior research fellow, Professor Siew Ean Khoo, says many recent arrivals are living in over-crowded rented accommodation and this is particularly true for many international students.
However Professor Khoo says the institute’s research shows many migrants and refugees are shifting from renting to purchasing a home around five years after they arrive in Australia.
“There are quite a lot of differences across the different categories of migrants, depending upon when they arrive actually. Those who are more recent arrivals tend to be renting and those who come here as permanent migrants and who have been in Australia a few years, they tend to become home-owners.”
The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia says high housing costs are forcing many newly-arrrived migrants and refugees to live in outlying suburbs in capital cities where land and house prices tend to be less expensive.
However FECCA chairman Pino Migliorino says many new migrants then see a lot of their incomes eroded in commuting costs as their jobs tend to be located more in the centre of the big cities.
Mr Migliorino says many refugees particularly struggle to access affordable accommodation because they are more likely to be on much lower incomes than other Australians.
“The amounts that they’re actually allowed to spend on accommodation are limited and therefore quite often they have to live in a group together. We have had a lot of recent refugees, particularly single men who are coming here as irregular maritime arrivals who have been granted refugee visas. They’re keen to get their families here – that’s why they came. And the situation is that they thn end up grouping themselves with others in the same situation in households.”
Mr Migliorino says many refugees are then forced to live in overcrowded accommodation.
He says they may have a poorer understanding of Australian tenancy laws which can leave them at greater risk of exploitation by unscrupulous landlords and real estate agents.
The housing lobby group, National Shelter, says this highlights the need for more public information on tenant’s rights in community languages.
National Shelter’s Adrian Pisarski says more effort is also needed to help many Indigenous Australians access affordable housing, both in remote and urban parts of the country.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience the worse disadvantage in housing terms in Australia and very often live in over-crowded situations, particularly in remote communities, but also in urban areas.”
Mr Pisarski says he believes the federal government should use its upcoming budget in May to create a one-billion-dollar Affordable Housing Growth fund.
He also supports calls from the developers’ lobby group, the Urban Development Institute of Australia, for more effective local government approval processes to help speed up the process of building new homes.
The Institute has also raised concerns over the lack of available land set aside to construct new homes, especially in big cities like Sydney and Melbourne.
Mr Pisarski says unless all levels of government act now, there is a real danger of rising homelessness among low-income Australians.
“It’s not really a choice. It really needs to be done because if they don’t do it, those costs will appear somewhere else. We’re really at a point where increasing numbers of people will become homeless and once people become homeless, it is both far more expensive to address that and far more difficult for them to return to a normal way of living than if we prevented it in the first place.”