SA's critical rental crisis

Skyrocketing rents leave older Aussies choosing between a home or food

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FOOD OR RENT? Pensioners and those on a low income are being priced out of the South Australian rental market, say welfare advocates.

FOOD OR RENT? Pensioners and those on a low income are being priced out of the South Australian rental market, say welfare advocates.


Lack of public housing and rising rents create a crisis for seniors and low paid.


Many elderly renters in South Australia are paying more than 50 per cent of their income to keep a roof over their heads.

Factor in cost of living increases, which mean a single age pensioner in December 2021 was $4.45 a week worse off than in December 2020, and older South Australian in the private rental market are doing it tough.

The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) has released its latest Cost of Living Update, which highlights the critical problem of rental affordability in South Australia for people on low incomes.

Rising Rents

Drawing on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the SA government, the report shows the rising of renting has coincided with a decline in the provision of public housing and concludes that greater investment in public housing will boost supply and help all renters.

"While much of the public debate around housing affordability centres on home owners and house prices, it is often renters that have the biggest affordability challenges - particularly those on the lowest incomes," said SACOSS chief executive Ross Womersley.

"Our report shows that an age pensioner in a 2-bedroom unit could easily be paying over 50 per cent of their income on rent."

The report data shows there are 31,938 public housing dwellings, (about 4.9 per cent of all households and one in five of all rental properties) 1,365 state-owned and managed Indigenous houses,12,387 community housing tenancies and approximately 689 Indigenous community houses. The number of social housing dwellings has declined from 9.9 per cent of the housing market in 2000 to 6.7 per cent in 2021.

Social housing rents are generally based on income rather than on market prices.

"These houses are vital for people who would otherwise struggle to find any housing in the private market, and unsurprisingly 98 per cent of public housing tenants in South Australia are in the lowest two income quintiles (Productivity Commission, 2022)," says the report.

Lower incomes

The data also shows renters on average have lower incomes and proportionately higher housing costs than home-owners, and are particularly impacted by housing affordability issues - rents at the less expensive end of the market in Adelaide are unaffordable for people on very low incomes (average rent equals 75 per cent of JobSeeker payment); rents have gone up significantly in the last 20 years - faster than both inflation and key income sources such as the JobSeeker allowance, and the minimum wage; the average rent for a 2 bedroom unit in Adelaide increased by $113 in real terms between 2000 and 2021: JobSeeker increased by $34.50 and the minimum wage by $87.

Between December 2020 and December 2021, the price of new rentals in South Australia increased by 7.2 per cent, including an 11.1 per cent increase for 3-bedroom houses in Adelaide. This 7.2 per cent increase is more than double the general inflation rate.

"Many of the levers of rental affordability lie with the federal government, but the biggest thing the state government could do would be to invest in social housing," said Mr Womersley.

"This would provide much-needed housing for those who otherwise struggle in the private market, but it would also provide an economic stimulus and increase the supply of rental properties."

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