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‘It’s a social emergency’: NSW renters drown under housing costs

By Orana Durney-Benson
15 November 2023 | 10 minute read
population boom sydney

From Sydney to the regions, nowhere in NSW offers sanctuary for priced-out tenants.

A joint annual study conducted by Shelter NSW and SGS Economics and Planning has revealed some alarming truths about the conditions that NSW renters are suffering under.

Data from the study showed that Sydney now ties with Hobart as the most unaffordable rental market in the entire country.

Last year, rents had increased 18.2 per cent compared to the 2022 financial year. In contrast, average rental household income had risen only 2.4 per cent, resulting in a staggering 13 per cent deterioration in affordability in 2023 alone.

“We are past the point of ringing alarm bells about Sydney’s rental affordability,” stated Shelter NSW’s CEO John Engeler.

“This deep and entrenched crisis demands a significant expansion of social and affordable housing, stronger renters’ rights and a realistic level of Commonwealth Rent Assistance.

“It can’t be left to the private market,” Mr Engeler asserted. “The NSW government has the power and means to provide it, or require it.”

According to the data, not a single coastal location in Sydney is affordable to the average rental household. In order to find acceptable rent prices, the average household must be prepared to travel well inland to the west or south of the city.

Previously affordable regions like Liverpool, Parramatta and Camden have now moved from acceptable in 2021 to unaffordable in 2023.

Key workers and low-income households are bearing the brunt of the crisis. For a single person on Jobseeker, for instance, rent comprises a mind-blowing 137 per cent of income – worlds away from the recommended 30 per cent cap.

“This is a social calamity but also a deep economic problem,” underlined Ellen Witte, principal at SGS.

“Key workers in critical industries are travelling further and further and being priced out of the city. We need a serious plan to provide the right housing at the right price to people who really need it.”

But it isn’t only Sydney that is being slammed by massive rents. Once considered a safe haven for those priced out of the capital, regional areas in NSW are also home to sky-high rents.

Mr Engeler stated: “For too long, the regions have been viewed with misty eyes as an affordable option for Sydneysiders to retreat to when rents got too high in the city.

“This is not the case, not for newcomers and certainly not for locals living on local industry wages.”

According to the report findings, the average rental household in regional NSW pays 29 per cent of its total $85,000 income on rent. When it comes to low-income earners, however, the situation is far more dire.

For a single person on Jobseeker earning $22,100 per year, rent is a whopping 71 per cent of their income. Pensioners, students and part-time workers also pay over 30 per cent of their income on housing.

Employment hubs are particularly hard hit, and areas of regional NSW that offer acceptable rents are few and far between.

The report indicated that Maitland, Bathurst, Wagga Wagga and the entire coastline, including the whole Illawarra-Shoalhaven region, are unaffordable for the average renter.

“This downward spiral has now reached the point where very few affordable long-term rentals are on offer,” Ms Witte stressed.

“We need to attack this problem from multiple angles,” she concluded.

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