Housing affordability is one of the most critical public policy challenges of our time. It is an economic challenge, but it is a social justice issue too. Housing security should be available to us all, yet I am concerned that in practice that is not the case—particularly if it is a young family trying to purchase a first home, a tenant of social community housing facing an ever-growing maintenance backlog, a lodger in a boarding house, or the hundreds of thousands of renters trying to study, work, raise families and live, when the deck is often stacked against them.
As the dream of home ownership fades for many in Sydney the statistics show that more and more people are renting. The 2006 census showed that one in four people in New South Wales was renting. By 2011 that number had risen to one in three. All the evidence points to the number accelerating. Yet renters are left without the critical protections that they need. Short-term leases and no-fault evictions mean that renters live with the constant threat of eviction. The ability of landlords to turf out renters without cause puts New South Wales out of line with other States. It also fundamentally undermines the other rights afforded to renters and makes their housing precarious and insecure. It is clear that the longer, fixed-term tenancies which are harder to terminate are in the best interests of tenants, and we must look at policy levers that work towards that end.
As a starting point, there is a case for reviewing the use of six-month leases. They contribute to uncertainty and expose tenants to frequent rent increases. We must also act to protect tenants from unjustified rent increases. Renters are being priced out of suburbs and out of neighbourhoods. They are being forced out because of ever-skyrocketing rents, particularly across the inner west. We have this ridiculous situation where tenants have told me that they just "fly under the radar". That means they are afraid to report maintenance issues or to complain to landlords in case their rent is raised or they are forced out just because they are causing too much trouble. There is also a concern that renters are not able to truly make a house a home. More often than not they cannot have pets, they cannot make minor alterations such as hanging things on the wall, and they often have to wait months for basic repairs to be made, leaving them in limbo.
All of this means that those who have few options but are forced to rent are having to accept housing insecurity. It also makes life difficult for those who choose to rent and who just want to be afforded basic rights. Luckily, they have a friend in the Tenants Union of New South Wales [TU]. For 40 years the TU has provided important advice and has passionately advocated for tenants. It has been in the corner for tenants when very few others were. The TU fought to establish the Rental Bond Board in the 1970s. It fought for tenancy legislation in 1980 to protect renters, and it fought to reform the Tenancies Act in the late 2000s. The Tenants Union continues to fight for fairness in the Act today.
A key victory was establishing tenancy advice and advocacy services across New South Wales, funded through the arrangements for bond payments. These are significant wins that have made a real difference for renters and I warmly congratulate the Tenants Union on its 40 years.
As policy makers our goal should be to strive for balance in tenancy laws and I think the mantra of stability, liveability and affordability should be our guiding principle. We must advance policies that deliver sustainability in what is a volatile housing market and we must do whatever we can to ensure that the private market provides secure tenancy. We should pay serious attention to rights that improve liveability, including the right to privacy in one's home and protections around the relationship renters have with their landlords. Renters should be allowed to own pets and to make minor changes to make a house a home.
Finally, we must work towards affordability. Key to that is the Federal Parliament seriously addressing capital gains tax and negative gearing. Labor federally took a brave policy to the recent election to limit negative gearing. That policy would level the playing field for young families and, in particular, key front-line workers such as nurses, teachers and police. Renters deserve to feel secure in their housing and I believe it is time for us to take a hard look at what we can do in this place to make that a reality.