Melbourne’s high rental market prices overtake workers essential to the city’s functioning
Critical Melbourne workers who have kept the city going during the coronavirus crisis cannot afford to pay rent anywhere without ending up in severe rental stress, new data analysis shows.
No suburbs across the state would be considered affordable for essential workers like supermarket staff, commercial cleaners and pharmacists, a comparison of the latest median wage data from the Australian Tax Office and Domain rental data show.
Those with less than $ 30,000 a year, including cashiers – who earn a median salary of $ 23,319 – only have $ 135 a week to spend on rent without falling into rental stress. A household is considered rental stress when more than 30% of its gross income is spent on paying rent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The cheapest rent in Victoria, Newborough in the Latrobe Valley, almost two hours from Melbourne, costs $ 188 per week for a unit. This would represent almost half – 42% – of the weekly salary of a cashier operator.
Elderly care nurses earn $ 46,812 per year, leaving them only $ 270 per week to spend on rent. For that price, the only affordable suburbs are in the Victoria area, like Morwell in Gippsland or Numurkah, which is 23 miles north of Shepparton – the city most recently hit hard by COVID-19.
Even for essential two-income worker households, much of the market is out of reach. A factory worker and a delivery driver, earning a total of $ 76,440 per year, would have $ 441 per week to spend on rent. That would get a house in the outer suburbs like Scoresby and Ringwood, or a smaller unit closer to town in Balwyn, the analysis showed.
Unaffordable housing is a problem facing essential workers in all capitals, with figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showing that more than 1.5 million Australians pay more than 30% of their income in rent. The median rent for a house in Melbourne is now $ 430 per week.
Many workers shared homes or lived in overcrowded homes, putting them at higher risk of COVID-19, said Everybody’s Home national spokesperson Kate Colvin.
“In the context of the pandemic, this is where we have the highest infection rates in Melbourne – the northern and western suburbs – because that’s where the lowest paid workers live,” Ms. Colvin. “They live in situations where they share with other essential workers [to afford to pay the rent] and often with several children.
While Melbourne’s outer suburbs seemed more affordable to tenants, for many people working in essential jobs, the added costs associated with living so far apart meant they weren’t, she said.
“They are often not affordable due to transportation costs and the strain on families from long commutes,” Colvin said.
Following investments were needed in social and affordable housing, Colvin said.
“We have to solve the problem of the housing market because housing is so expensive, even for working people,” she said.
Grattan Institute economist Brendan Coates said it was a “vicious cycle” for low-wage essential workers who often worked in jobs that could not be done from home.
“This is why the [COVID-19] the epidemics in, say, western Sydney or the northern suburbs of Melbourne are so difficult to eradicate, ”Coates said.
Those in wealthy neighborhoods were more likely to be able to work from home and live in larger homes, or with fewer people, making it easier to isolate and stop the spread, he said.
Mr Coates said increasing the supply of housing, especially in middle and outlying suburbs, was key to improving housing affordability, while increasing wages for essential workers and government support rent were also needed.
Farah Farouque, director of community engagement at Tenants Victoria, said essential workers needed access to affordable housing close to their jobs, public transport, schools and daycares.
“We have seen how important essential workers are to the functioning of our cities, suburbs and regions through the prism of the pandemic,” Ms. Farouque said.
“We know that rental overcrowding can… be a big challenge for low-income people and they try to minimize their housing costs,” she said. “During the pandemic, we’ve heard stories about the challenges some residents of shared homes face when trying to follow public health guidelines to self-isolate due to COVID-19 exposures.
“On so many fronts, the pandemic has reinforced the critical fact that safe, secure and affordable housing is essential for the personal and public safety of tenants,” she said.