Determined dreamers

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A survey of young Australians has highlighted a crisis in the Melbourne’s rental market. Two-thirds of respondents had experienced difficulties in finding somewhere to rent. The unavailability of suitable housing, and its affordability, top the list of concerns for the 202 men and women who responded to the survey by Swinburne University journalism students. Other prominent grievances include accusations that real estate agents and landlords discriminate against the young. The Standard news team reports.

 

YOUTH HOUSING SURVEY

 

A survey of young Australians has highlighted a crisis in Melbourne’s rental market. Two-thirds of respondents had experienced difficulties in finding somewhere to rent.

The unavailability of suitable housing, and its affordability, top the list of concerns for the 202 men and women who responded to the survey by Swinburne University journalism students.

Other prominent grievances include accusations that real estate agents and landlords discriminate against the young.

Many were also adjusting to the surprise discovery that living with other people – after 20 or so years with their own families – can be challenging.

“Rather messy” roommates and “housemates’ cleanliness” were among the complaints picked up by the survey of people aged 18 to 29.

With significant increases in house prices in recent years just one per cent had already entered the housing market. But this generation still clings to the “great Australian dream” of home ownership.

Though nine out of 10 said they aimed to own their own home one day but only three-quarters of those thought this goal was achievable.

For Natasha Jones (photo by John McLeish), a Swinburne University psychology student in her early twenties, owning her own home seems such an impossible dream that she believes it could be 20 years before she achieves it.

Jones, who lives with her grandparents and pays no rent, has not yet started saving for a home deposit and would consider buying with friends as a means of getting a foothold in the property market.

“Pricing is too high for first home buyers,” she says.

With her parents not able to help her buy a place and her expectations of buying 10 to 20 years in the future, she believes that more public housing and shorter waiting lists are essential.

Twenty five-year-old student Daniel Alexander expects to be buying a house at 28 but “only if it’s rural.”

Most remained optimistic, with more respondents saying they expected to buy between five and 10 years from now than over any other time frame.

But, when it came to action, economic realities put a damper on hope, with only 31 per cent having already begun to save for a deposit.

Monash University paramedics student Sanam Dehghan, 23, expects to buy a home by the time she turns 30. At present, she lives at home in a house her parents own and does not pay rent, but has not yet begun saving for her own house deposit.

She sees buying with friends as a possible means of getting a foothold in the market and says her family would also help her buy a place.

But she worries about availability: “They are destroying cheaper housing to build expensive apartments,” she says.

Two-thirds of the total survey contingent – most of them Gen Ys, with a handful of millennials – said their family would help them buy a place if necessary.

That stable family background was underscored by the fact that 82 per cent of respondents’ parents owned their own home.

More than 80 per cent of respondents to the survey – conducted by first-year journalism students – were aged 18-25. With 12 per cent aged in their late 20s and seven per cent teenagers under 18.

More than 60 per cent were students, one-third in the paid workforce, and many – students trying to pay off HECS debts – were both. In terms of gender balance, 43 per cent of respondents were male, 57 per cent female.

One hundred and thirteen respondents said they were living with one or both parents, 89 were renting, 39 shared with friends, roommates or a partner, 11 owned their own home (or lived with a partner who did), 10 shared with family – grandparents, relatives other than parents or another family altogether).

Six said they lived in student accommodation and one reported living in a car.

Results show that the median rent for those not living free or paying board is $230 per week.

Affordable housing is a key priority for 18 year-old media and communications student Isabella Carlson who lives alone in a rented property for which she pays $250 a week – 35 per cent of her income. She has experienced difficulties finding a place, saying the main problem is “affordable rent”.

Isabella Carlson: photo by Khalid Farah
Isabella Carlson: photo by Khalid Farah

She sees the need for affordable accommodation as an issue in the public housing sector as well, suggesting, “build affordable homes” as a solution to improving the public housing situation.

Despite paying rent, Carlson has begun saving for a house deposit and expects to buy in five years. Family help and buying with friends are two options which could help her achieve this, she says.

But the range of rents paid by these respondents – all of them under 30 years of age – was stunning, from $93 to $760 a week.

For 58 per cent of those respondents who pay rent, it accounts for less than half their income. On average, it swallows up almost half (48 per cent of) their income.

One-quarter of all rent-payers said it took between 50 per cent and 100 per cent of their income.

Most of those living at home with parents have it easier, at least economically: only three out of 10 pay board, the rest enjoy free lodgings.

From the survey statistics, the average income for a respondent turns out to be $475 per week, about $35 below the poverty line for a single person in work, according to the Melbourne University Institute of Applied Economics’ data for the March quarter of 2015, the most recent estimate available.

Less common than the issue of affordability were several other discontents with the renting life, among them lack of a “renting record” (a common complaint among newcomers to the market), strict landlords, pet ownership, disability access issues, repeated and unexplained rejection of applications and homesickness.

Views were nearly evenly split on the idea of moving in with friends as a means of getting a foothold in the property market: 47 per cent said they would, 49 per cent wouldn’t. Farmhand Jordan Tomas was willing to give it a try, but only with his “best mate”.

Read more stories about housing issues facing young Australians