Sydney students facing lack of affordable housing

April 30, 2014
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Sydney-based students are facing a huge lack of affordable housing, according to a new report formally released today by national charity, Anglicare.

The research’s conclusions will probably be pretty unsurprising for students scraping together shrapnel for their sad, damp, shoeboxes of death dotted throughout the city.

The study looked at 12,000 homes in Sydney and concluded that zero of the rental properties were affordable for people on Youth Allowance without causing “rental stress”. (Yep, zero.)

The charity defines rental stress as when somebody is spending more than 30 per cent of their income in rent. There’s also “extreme rental stress”, which is when somebody is spending over half of their income.

Bianca Pedro, a full-time International and Development Studies student at the University of New South Wales, is one of many young Australians who have taken up extra work to afford housing while studying.

Bianca receives the highest rate of Youth Allowance and rental assistance, at $250 a week, of which $210 goes towards her weekly rent in a four bedroom inner west house.

That means there’s $40 left for her to spend on bills, groceries, having a life and probably some packets of Mi Goreng noodles.

“When you break it down, I can't possibly not have a job on the side as well. I hardly know anyone who doesn't work as well as get Youth Allowance,” she says.

Bianca told Hijacked that she is now in a “great situation” compared to her previous rental property, which was located just down the road from her current Marrickville home.

“[In] my last house, the rent was $180 a week, but that meant I had to sacrifice a back door, let it rain inside the living room, and have a guy live in our shed for $100 a week.

"Oh, and live with 6 other people.”

Anglicare’s Sydney focused report is emblematic of wider lack of affordable housing for students across the country, says Anglicare Australia executive director, Kasy Chambers.

“This is not simply a theoretical issue. Our snapshot found that even a shed in the Northern Territory is not affordable for someone on a low income,” she said in the Fairfax press today.

The Anglicare report calculated the maximum affordable rent per fortnight for students was $224.40 before entering into rental stress.

Some students find themselves under a whole other level of stress, such as Leah*, a Youth Allowance recipient who holds down casual work while studying a full-time Diploma of Youth Work.

“I have been homeless on and off for the past 4 years, primarily due to the rental crisis. Many times, I stayed with friends in unsafe crisis shelters," Leah told Hijacked.

“If there were no vacancies for the night, we slept in a car, or if we didn't have that, we would sleep out with our friends that were homeless down by a bridge, although we didn’t do that too many times.”

After paying $250 a week for her last rental, which she describes as “dodgy and falling down”, Leah now lives at a youth refuge which costs $70 a week.

“It doesn't allow me any quiet place to study, or to find a permanent job due to the insecurities of where you will live the next week. Food is included but you sacrifice a lot like safety, having your friends around and living a normal life, not to mention curfew," she said.

Anglicare's report isn’t limited to students, and there was bad news across the board for people on income support, such as the job seeking welfare payment, Newstart.

The charity found that of 12,164 properties up for rent between April 5 and 6, only nine of them were affordable for couples on Newstart with children. A single parent with a child on a parenting payment could only feasibly afford one.

Those lucky old codgers on the (presently threatened) aged pension had a veritable smorgasbord available to them in comparison, with 22 affordable rentals in all of Sydney.

Fairfax Media is reporting that a coalition of housing bodies are meeting in Canberra today to discuss the issue, and that the federal Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, "wants to grow the entire housing market for all Australians".

The report is being released amid a national debate regarding youth unemployment, as previously reported on by Hijacked.

Ash Berdebes

Image: Demi Brooker, Raffles College of Design & Commerce

*Name changed for privacy reasons