Rental vacancies ease as political housing brawl stirs

Poppy Johnston |

Conditions for renters remain tough, with just 1.21 per cent of properties vacant during April.
Conditions for renters remain tough, with just 1.21 per cent of properties vacant during April.

The hunt for a rental got a little easier in April, but vacancy rates are still a long way from levels considered healthy as a political fight breaks out over the housing crisis.

The pressure is on to fix worsening housing affordability, with federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton pledging to cut migration as his solution to the issue during his response to Tuesday’s federal budget.

Building more homes is how the Albanese government is trying to fix the issue, with a commitment to producing 1.2 million new dwellings in the five years from July, and several polices aimed at getting there.

But for now, conditions for renters remain tough. 

A minor rise in the national vacancy rate was recorded in April, according to real estate data firm PropTrack, but with just 1.21 per cent of properties sitting vacant during the month, vacancy rates are still far from levels considered healthy.

Even with the 0.09 percentage point lift in April, PropTrack economist Anne Flaherty said competition for scarce rentals remained fierce, which is was driving rent prices higher.

Tenants looking for a new place have endured a 9.1 per cent rise in advertised rents in the 12 months to March, based on the property data firm’s figures, and Reserve Bank of Australia analysis suggests there’s more pain to come. 

The dynamics in the housing market keeping rents and property prices high are taking time to unwind, the central bank’s chief economist Sarah Hunter said in a speech on Thursday.

New home building has been sluggish, fewer people are living together, and the population has been growing fast since borders reopened after the pandemic, keeping prices elevated.

And although there were signs developers were responding to strong demand for housing by building more homes, she said this was taking time and many projects were still not viable. 

As well as a planning to cut Australia’s permanent migration intake of 185,000 by 25 per cent if elected, Mr Dutton has also promised to enforce a two-year ban on foreigners buying existing homes.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the opposition had left many questions unanswered when it came to his proposed rework of the migration system.

“He has not been able to say for example, what the impacts on Australian industry will be, industries like construction, agriculture, what the impact on our economy would be,” he told reporters on Friday. 

In the federal budget, commonwealth rent assistance was lifted by 10 per cent, providing immediate relief to one quarter of renters, and more money was set aside for homelessness services, infrastructure to support newly-built homes and other policies.

AAP