The Greens are urging the Albanese government to impose a nationwide rent freeze for two years, saying the issue of rental affordability should be elevated to national cabinet ahead of next week’s jobs and skills summit.
New research from the Everybody’s Home advocacy group has found increased rents in regional areas are contributing to unfilled job vacancies, with some areas recording rental rises of more than 40% in the past two years.
Nationally, rents have been rising at the fastest rate in 14 years, up 9.1% in capital cities and 10.8% in regional areas compared to June 2021.
While tenancy laws are different in each state and territory, the Greens are calling for a national approach that would put in place a two-year emergency rent freeze as well as future rental rise caps of 2% for every 24 months, an end to no-grounds evictions, and minimum standards for rental properties.
The idea is not without precedent. The Australian government froze national rents in 1941 as a result of inflation linked to wartime shortages, while the Victorian government put in place a six-month rent freeze during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Greens’ housing spokesperson, Max Chandler-Mather, said the freeze would allow wages and incomes time to catch up to rents, which he said had grown seven times faster than wages in capital cities over the past year.
“With more and more people renting long term, we desperately need legislated protections against unfair, arbitrary evictions and skyrocketing rents,” he said.
“The rental affordability crisis is destroying regional communities and impacting the broader economy. A rent freeze will help those communities rebuild, tackle the skills shortage and protect livelihoods.
“If the government is serious about cost of living relief, if they’re serious about affordable housing, then it’s a no-brainer to freeze rent rises.”
The Albanese government has promised to build 30,000 social and affordable houses as part of its $10bn social housing fund, which is on top of state forecasts of an extra 15,000 homes over the next two years.
But the Greens and advocate groups say the number is not enough to address the rental affordability crisis, with estimates from the parliamentary library showing the federal plan will deliver just 3% of the social housing units needed over the next decade.
“Rents are out of control, millions of Australian renters are struggling to pay the rent, and unless the government wants to see more families sleeping in their cars they need to do their job and act now to stop this crisis boiling over into a national tragedy,” Chandler-Mather said.
“We’ve got … workers unable to afford a home near where they work, people being evicted from their homes because they can’t afford 20% rent increases, and the government’s just sitting on their hands.”
The housing minister, Julie Collins, has acknowledged there is a “national housing crisis” and has said the most important issue is increasing supply.
“We need to get more homes on the ground as quickly as we can, and that’s what we’re working towards,” she said last week.
The government has also committed to developing a new national housing and homelessness plan with the states, which Collins has said will be crucial for addressing affordability and homelessness challenges across the country.
Last month Collins held the first meeting of state and territory housing ministers in five years, and has accused the former government of “a decade of no federal leadership when it comes to housing and homelessness”.