Housing affordability in Canberra: Renting is the ACT's 'biggest issue'

Housing affordability in Canberra: Renting is the ACT's 'biggest issue'

Belconnen university student Lizz McCarter lists her favourite television channel as LifeStyle.

It's here she draws fresh inspiration for her goal of buying and renovating a home.

Lizz McCarter is a 23-year-old uni student struggling with rent.

Lizz McCarter is a 23-year-old uni student struggling with rent.Credit:Jay Cronan

Unfortunately for the 23-year-old, who is unable to work, the great Australian dream seems just that - a dream.

Half her partner's pay goes on rent, with much of the remainder spent managing her chronic medical condition.


"It's very daunting. It's hard for us to even consider ... saving for a house and we have to hope things will be better in a few years' time when we're a bit older," Ms McCarter said.

"At this point I don't even know if it's possible."

The latest CoreLogic Rental Index showed households renting in Canberra paid an average of $505 per week - recording the nation's biggest increase with a rise of 1 per cent for the month and 1.9 per cent year-on-year.

Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods Associate Professor Ben Phillips said rent was housing affordability's biggest issue.

"It's really the rental market which is where you have all the social issues and the lower-income families, that's really where the problems are," he said.

"Of course, if you're paying a lot of rent it's difficult to get into the market to purchase a house if that's what you want to do.

"We've got rents that are really based around quite an affluent city but that hides the reality that yes, we're an affluent city, but there's plenty of people who are lower-income families in Canberra as well who are in that rental market."

Ms McCarter is one of many for whom renting remains the only viable option.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics housing data showed the number of ACT households renting rose slightly over the past five years from 29.3 per cent to 31.5 per cent.

In the same period, the number of households who owned their homes outright dipped very slightly from 27.3 per cent to 27.1 per cent. Overall, homeowners - including those with mortgages - dropped from 69.8 per cent to 67.2 per cent.

Associate Professor Phillips said he believed investors were driving up house prices for everyone.

Tax office figures show at least 45,455 people own rental properties in Canberra.

"The housing industry would probably say that it's all about supply, there's not enough supply coming onto the market. Well, Canberra's probably had more supply than it needed population-wise so I don't think that's the reason for Canberra," he said.

"I think we've started thinking about housing as an investment rather than just a place to live, so probably investors have bidded up the prices of stock in Canberra as they have right around the country and the world."

It's here that ACT Shelter executive officer Travis Gilbert thinks the federal government could step in.

"I think the federal government has some tax levers it could pull and this is where I think we would disagree with the Property Council, the Real Estate Institute and the HIA and others," he said.

"The interaction between [negative gearing] and the capital gains tax discount appears to have pushed property prices higher since the capital gains tax discount was introduced 15 years ago."


While housing stress exacerbates Ms Carter's health problems, including her depression and anxiety, she counts herself lucky to have a nice apartment and a network she can call on for support.

"While we're struggling quite significantly, we're still really lucky," she said.

Emily Baker is a reporter for the Sunday Canberra Times. She previously reported on education for The Canberra Times.

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