If buying a house is a pipe dream, renting one is a nightmare | Greg Jericho

The question of housing affordability is dominated by talk of house prices and what the Reserve Bank of Australia will do today when it meets to decide on interest rates. However, the ninth annual Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot highlights that for many people living on either the minimum wage or government benefits, the problem of housing is not about buying a home but being able to find an affordable place to rent.

Each year Anglicare Australia does a somewhat odd thing to gauge housing affordability – rather than rely on national data and measurements, it looks at what properties are actually available to rent throughout Australia and compares the price with what people on various incomes would be able to afford. And rather than merely look at national figures, it also looks at regions across the nation.

This year, on 24 March, it surveyed 67,365 properties that were listed for rent. Not only did the survey look at the price, it also considered the appropriate size of the property. A household with two adults on the minimum wage and two kids might be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Sydney, but it makes little sense to count that as “affordable”, given the size of the property would not be fit for that family’s needs.

Sign up to receive the latest Australian opinion pieces every weekday

The snapshot focuses on households on the minimum wage and four government income support types – the parenting payment, aged pension, Newstart and the disability support pension.

The news, as it has ever been since it began the snapshot, is not good at all for those trying to survive on government support.

Throughout Australia, out of those 67,365 properties listed, only three were affordable or appropriate for a single person on Newstart – one was in Tasmania, one in far north Queensland and one was a share house in Queanbeyan.

Number and proportion of suitable property listings

Household Type

Payment Type

No. Affordable & Appropriate

Percent Affordable & Appropriate

Couple, no children

Age Pension

2,9832983

4.4%4.42811549

Couple, two children (one aged less than 5, one aged less than 10)

Newstart Allowance (both adults)

1,0971097

1.6%1.628442069

Couple, two children (one aged less than 5, one aged less than 10)

Minimum Wage + FTB A

17,27417274

25.6%25.6423959

Couple, two children (one aged less than 5, one aged less than 10)

Minimum Wage + Parenting payment (partnered) + FTB A&B

6,2506250

9.3%9.277814889

Single

Age Pension

833833

1.2%1.236547168

Single

Newstart Allowance

33

0.0%0.004453351

Single

Minimum Wage

1,9521952

2.9%2.897647146

Single aged over 18

Youth Allowance

22

0.0%0.002968901

Single aged over 21

Disability Support Pension

485485

0.7%0.719958435

Single in share house

Youth Allowance

22

0.0%0.002968901

Single, one child (aged less than 5)

Parenting Payment Single

707707

1.0%1.04950642

Single, one child (aged over 8)

Newstart Allowance

180180

0.3%0.267201069

Single, two children (one aged less than 5, one aged less than 10)

Parenting Payment Single

530530

0.8%0.786758703

Single, two children (one aged less than 5, one aged less than 10)

Minimum Wage + FTB A & B

3,5533553

5.3%5.274252208

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: Anglicare 2018 Get the data Created with Datawrapper

Even for a single person on the minimum wage, the rental market is very limited – just 5.3% of the properties listed across Australia were affordable – and mostly those properties were outside the metropolitan areas.

This highlights the biggest issue with rental affordability (and overall housing affordability) – where you live greatly affects what you can afford.

While, for example, across the nation 4.3% of proprieties listed were affordable and appropriate for a couple on the age pension, in greater Sydney just 34 of the 17,417 properties listed fit this category.

The best areas for an age pensioner couple to find a place to rent are the Queensland central region, the New South Wales Riverina and the South Australian south-eastern region. But even here we are taking a wide expanse that includes towns such as Murray Bridge, those in the Riverland and down to Mount Gambier.

Rental affordability by region and household type

Single, 2 children: Parenting payment

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

20.0

40.0

60.0%

Sydney

NT

ACT

QLD: Cairns

NSW: Ctrl coast

Brisbane

NSW: Nth coast

Perth

Melbourne

WA: Nth west

NSW: Sth East

Adelaide

Vic: Regions

WA: Sth west

Tasmania

NSW: Riverina

NSW: Ctrl west

QLD: Central

SA: Sth-eastern

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: Anglicare Get the data Created with Datawrapper

For a family with a couple on the minimum wage, the best place is Western Australia’s south-west, as well as SA’s south-east and the Queensland central area (which includes towns such as Gladstone and Rockhampton).

Not surprisingly, overall affordability is easier for those on the minimum wage than with income support. But the difference across the capital cities is quite wide.

In Sydney, just 4.8% of properties are affordable for a household on the minimum wage compared to half of those listed in Perth:

Affordable & appropriate properties by household income type

Households on income support paymentHousehold on minimum wage

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

0.2%

Brisbane

20.0

40.0%

21.4%

Tas.

5.8%

Perth

3.8%

Adelaide

3.0%

Melbourne

2.6%

Brisbane

2.0%

ACT

0.2%

Sydney

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: Anglicare Get the data Created with Datawrapper

A big reason for the disparity is the big difference in rental price growth over the past year. While in Sydney, rent prices have grown by 2.4% in the past year, in Perth – due to the end of the mining boom – they have fallen by more than 6%:

Rent price growth by capital city

Past yearPast 5 yearsPast decade

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

-6.3%

CPI

-6.0

-4.0

-2.0

2.0%

3.7%

Hobart

2.6%

Canberra

2.4%

Sydney

2.2%

Melbourne

1.9%

CPI

0.5%

Adelaide

-0.5%

Brisbane

-6.0%

Darwin

-6.3%

Perth

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 6401.0, Table 9, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

But even within individual areas the affordability can vary significantly depending on the size of the household and the number of adults on the minimum wage or income support.

In Perth, for example, while 50% of the properties were affordable and appropriate for households on the minimum wage, that number dropped significantly when only one adult in the household was on that wage and the other was on income support. Even for a single person on the minimum wage, just 1.4% of properties in Perth’s greater metropolitan area were affordable and appropriate.

Rental affordability by region and household type

ACT & Queanbeyan

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

0.0%

Couple, 2 children: Minimum wage (1 adult) + benefits

20.0

40.0

60.0%

0.0%

Single, 2 children: Parenting payment

0.5%

Couple, age pension

0.0%

Single, 1 child: Newstart

0.0%

Single: DSP

0.0%

Single: Newstart

1.9%

Couple, 2 children: Minimum wage (both adults)

4.4%

Single: Minimum wage

0.0%

Couple, 2 children: Minimum wage (1 adult) + benefits

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: Anglicare Get the data Created with Datawrapper

The big takeaway from the figures is just how much more precarious life becomes when you are alone. Consider that there were 2,983 properties through Australia that were affordable for a couple on the age pension – a pathetic 4.3% – but just 833, or 1.2%, for a single pensioner.

In either case, it presents a worrying future should housing affordability continue to decline for younger generations once they hit retirement.

Overall since last year, the rental affordability picture has become worse, but with some good news in some capital cities.

Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane have seen an increase in affordability across a number of household income types – a function of the increase in apartment supply in Melbourne and Brisbane and falling demand and rental prices in Perth.

Australian housing stuck between a rock and a hard place | Greg Jericho

Read more

In Sydney, there was a 0.6% point increase in the number of properties available for a couple on the minimum wage, but no discernible improvement for any other income type. In Adelaide the situation has actually deteriorated for households on the minimum wage:

Annual change in rental affordability

Australia

Created with Raphaël 2.1.2

-1.4% pts

Couple, 2 children: Minimum wage (1 adult) + benefits

-2.0

2.0

4.0% pts

-0.4% pts

Single, 2 children: Parenting payment

0.1% pts

Couple, age pension

-0.1% pts

Single, 1 child: Newstart

-0.1% pts

Single: DSP

0.0% pts

Single: Newstart

-1.9% pts

Couple, 2 children: Minimum wage (both adults)

0.1% pts

Single: Minimum wage

-1.4% pts

Couple, 2 children: Minimum wage (1 adult) + benefits

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: Anglicare snapshot Get the data Created with Datawrapper

Anglicare argues that currently “the federal government spends billions more on subsidising wealth accumulation for property investors than it does on public housing and homelessness services”, and that the situation needs to reverse. And certainly public housing construction is much lower now than it was 20 years ago:

Public housing construction commencements

Chart: Greg Jericho Source: ABS 8752.0, Table 33, derived Get the data Created with Datawrapper

Today the Reserve Bank will again decide on interest rates (most likely keeping them at the current record low of 1.5%). Quite often that provokes a discussion on the affordability of buying a home. But the Anglicare snapshot reveals that for the very many people in Australia for whom buying a home is not so much a dream but an impossibility, the daily reality of finding a place to rent is an almighty struggle – one that is barely improving despite the improving employment picture over the past year.

• Greg Jericho is a Guardian Australia columnist