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By Leanne Jopson

The changing landscape of Australian rentals: a shift towards high-income tenants

If you're currently renting, this might sound all too familiar.

However, for those who haven't been part of the rental market for some time, the following revelation might come as a surprise:

Over the past quarter-century, there's been a significant shift in Australia's rental market demographics.

High-income households are increasingly opting to rent, creating a challenging situation for low-income renters.

Distributions Of Privare Renter Household Incomes Australia 1996 2021

Source: AHURI

A drastic shift in rental demographics

Since 1996, the presence of high-income households in Australia's private rental market has notably increased.

Where they once represented a mere 8% of private renters, they now account for a substantial 24%.

This shift has drastically reduced the availability of affordable rental options for lower-income groups.

In fact, the portion of rentals affordable for the lowest income earners has plummeted from 60% to a mere 13%.

This trend is more than just numbers; it's a societal shift with real consequences.

Low-income renters find themselves increasingly outmatched in the rental market, leading to more people being forced into informal living situations or, worse, homelessness.

The necessity for a dual income to afford rent is becoming more apparent, a reality that is pushing single-income renters, irrespective of their age, to the fringes of the rental market.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) recently released a report shedding light on this issue.

Their long-term analysis labels this trend a "market failure" in our housing sector.

They argue that relying solely on the private market to provide housing for low-income individuals is neither sustainable socially nor economically.

The report advocates for a more robust social housing approach as a solution.

Understanding rental affordability

The report, conducted by researchers from Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Tasmania, defines 'affordable' rent as not exceeding 30% of a household's gross income.

Unfortunately, the data reveals a worsening scenario.

In 2021, out of the lowest 20% of income earners who rent, only a small fraction could find affordable housing.

The rest, which constitutes a staggering 82%, faced housing affordability stress.

Margaret Reynolds, one of the researchers, points out the increasing prevalence of high-income renters (earning around $140,000 per year) in the market.

This trend masks the full extent of the affordability crisis at the household level, as many low-income renters retreat into informal rental arrangements with family or friends, still often paying unaffordable rents.

Rental Crisis

Policy implications and the way forward

The AHURI report is a clarion call for policymakers.

It suggests that relying on private markets alone is insufficient to address the housing needs of low-income renters.

The researchers draw parallels with climate change, suggesting that a similar level of policy innovation and long-term thinking is required to address these housing challenges.

The report concludes with a poignant question about the sustainability of the private rental sector as a long-term housing solution.

Given the growing dependence on rental housing across demographics, cities, and regions the report suggests it's time to reevaluate our approach to housing policy.

About Leanne Jopson Leanne is National Director of Property Management at Metropole and a Property Professional in every sense of the word. With 20 years' experience in real estate, Leanne brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to maximise returns and minimise stress for their clients.
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