I went to see a tiny rental on the weekend. I thought the place I live in now was small but the place I went to see was half the size of this one. It’s very old but I put in application because there is so little out there. Since Covid we have to apply for rentals via complex online forms. I don’t know if I even filled the form in correctly or what my chances of getting the place are like. There were loads of other people at the inspection. The latest stats indicate rental vacancies in this area are down to 0.07%.
I’m still not sure it about the place anyway – it is so old and small – but it’s in a great part of the city and is up a steep hill from a beautiful stretch of river.
I’ve been tossing round ideas of driving off into the sunset in my little hatchback even though petrol costs are rising or of moving back to the country. Most of the rentals I see in the country are way out in the sticks so petrol costs would still be an issue. At this point in time neither of these options feels particularly solid or viable.
Meanwhile – I pack boxes. Things are moving – energy is shifting – but I’ve no idea where it’s all taking me.
Breaking my blogging silence to let off some steam… I just had an extremely distressing social media discussion with a landlord friend of a friend who argued about the profit and loss of landlords until I bowed out of the discussion. The man was completely detached and apparently devoid any emotion regarding the people he evicted in order to keep his profit margins high.
The rental situation here is getting worse and worse. I am faced with the prospect of renting a tiny inner city place (one doesn’t even have a stove) or moving a long way out to rent houses that look utterly lovely online – just 5 hours drive from family. I am going to look at an inner city rental tomorrow and will have a clearer idea of just which direction I want to head in after that.
Meanwhile I look out my kitchen window and see two houses that are only occupied for a few weekends a year –
The recent release of 2021 Census data revealed a shocking “one million homes were unoccupied”.
This statistic sent housing commentators, government agencies and policymakers into a spin. At a time of significant housing shortages, this extra million homes would surely make a big difference. They could provide housing for some homeless, ease the rental affordability crisis, and get first-home owners into their first home.
There has been a great deal of speculation about how this has happened. Has it been caused by overseas millionaires buying up housing and leaving it as an empty investment? Is it Airbnb taking up homes that could be used for families? Or are cashed-up Gen-Xers double-consuming by living in one house while renovating another?
So, why were 1,043,776 dwellings empty on census night?
In fact, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on.
First, it’s not a new phenomenon. When we compare 2021 with previous censuses, a slightly smaller percentage of our private dwelling stock was classified as unoccupied — just under 10 per cent, compared with nearly 11 per cent at the previous census in 2016.
Since the release of the data, many journalists have pointed to this startling number of empty homes, portraying them as abandoned or left empty. There is almost certainly a much more ordinary and less startling story to tell. We suspect there are three main explanations.
A big part of the story is how the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) determines whether a dwelling is occupied or not. In short, it does its best by using a variety of methods, but, for the majority of dwellings, occupancy “is determined by the returned census form”. If a form was not returned, and the ABS had no further information, the dwelling was often deemed to be unoccupied.
This is important to our interpretation of the empty homes story. At any one time, lots of things are going on in the housing market, and most of it is a long way from abandoned or empty.
For example, 647,000 dwellings were sold in 2021. This means many thousands of dwellings were unoccupied on census night because they were up for sale or awaiting transfer.
The second and perhaps most important contributor to the empty homes story is holiday homes. Estimates vary, but we know 2 million Australians own one or more properties other than their own home. It’s estimated up to 346,581 of these properties may be listed on just one rental platform, Airbnb.
It’s part of the census design to pick a night of the year when the most Australians are at home. If you think back to Tuesday, August 10 2021, it was a Tuesday night in mid-winter, so many of Australia’s holiday homes would have been empty — and counted as unoccupied.
Where are these unoccupied dwellings located?
If we map the distribution of unoccupied dwellings across Australia, two things stand out.
Firstly, unoccupied dwellings tend to be concentrated in sea-change and inner-city holiday spots, such as Victor Harbor in South Australia (as the map below shows) , Lorne in Victoria and Batemans Bay in New South Wales. This reinforces the holiday homes explanation.
It’s also striking how few unoccupied homes are in our major cities. Sydney is a great example. The map below shows a very uniform absence of unused housing across the whole metropolitan area.
You can search an the interactive map here to see how many homes were classified as unoccupied in your local area.
So should we worry about the ‘million unoccupied homes’?
Yes and no. An unknown proportion in that million are not empty, just assumed to be vacant because a census form wasn’t returned. We should regard this as a systematic error in the counting process. No doubt the ABS will be aiming to reduce this in future censuses.
Some of that million are genuinely vacant due to the way the housing market works. This includes, for example, the sales process and the need for vacant possession.
Yet, even if there are substantially fewer than a million vacant dwellings, the reality is that there are too many ways homes in Australia can be left unoccupied for weeks, months, years — and it’s costing all of us. Those who are homeless are paying the highest price. But the rest of us feel the pain through higher rents, increased rates to pay for infrastructure constructed for housing that isn’t occupied, and greater difficulties in getting into the housing market.
We need to find ways to ensure houses are full of people, not left empty as owners wait for investment opportunities to mature, or for absentee owners to go on holiday.
We know there are solutions out there. Removing caps on council rates and treating short-term rentals as commercial properties essential to the tourism industry are just two ways we can get better occupancy of our stock. We just need to find the will to implement them.
Emma Baker is Professor of Housing Research, University of Adelaide; Andrew Beer is Executive Dean, UniSA Business, University of South Australia and Marcus Blake is Senior Data Scientist and Manager, Australian Geospatial Health Laboratory, University of Canberra. This piece first appeared on The Conversation.
Like breathing exercises this project has its own discipline. I write a blog post each morning then get on with the day. The postman just delivered the formal Notice to Vacate. I have till November 1 to be out of here – breathing space.
The light on the sea. Breathing in then breathing out, – consider options.
Making lists. What do I take forward? What do I discard? I begin to find the way into my own future.
Thank you to everyone who is reading this stuff. I appreciate it and your comments are helping shift the project forward. If you want, you can link your own photos and thoughts on calm reflections in the comment thread.
Late yesterday I received a phone call from my real estate agent. I have 60 days to get out of here because the owner is selling the property. I can give 14 days notice if I find a place before the 60 days are up. I’ve been wanting to move for a long time but have been held back by commitments and the acute shortage of rental properties here. Now I am faced with the prospect of taking whatever I can get or becoming homeless. Hmmm – interesting!
A short while later I received an online newsletter from a group I follow. It contained this advice:- “Don’t forget to keep in mind the flexibility aspect of the month. If something is not yet clear to you, don’t try and overthink or obsess about it. Allow it to flow into clarity through its own timing.” https://thepowerpath.com/featured-articles/new-moon-update-8-27-22/
Of course seeking calm reflections in the outer world mirrors my inner processes.
One thing that’s bothering me about this project though is my own own expectation that my inner reflections will lead somewhere – that I will find some profound realization that neatly, and completely, rounds out my reflections and leads me forward.
Instead I am entering deeper into inconclusive states of increasing ambiguity.
What with one thing and another I’ve been finding life very hectic lately. This morning I listened to a Youtube meditation which focused on finding words for the qualities you want to bring into your life. As I drifted up out of the meditation I decided it’s time for me to do another a ‘Two Weeks of …’ blog posts similar to the ‘Two Weeks of Trees’ blog posts I made late last year. This time I will do two weeks of posts about calm reflections – mostly photos but who knows, maybe my desire to write something creative and/or paint will re-surface too. Like last time I invite anyone who wants to get involved in this project to post links to your own posts about calm reflections in the comments section and I’ll come over and visit your blog. It’s not so much a challenge as a way of interacting and communicating with each other through our blogs. There is no need to link a post every day – just as often as you feel like it.
To get the idea rolling I’ll post some images of a dam I saw on Saturday. After hours of driving (much of it through heavy traffic) I pulled over in a country picnic area for a breather. The sky was overcast and the ground soggy underfoot from all the rain we’ve been having here. Standing on an embankment I looked out over a small dam that had been planted to resemble a natural pool.
Here’s a link to the meditation I listened to you if you want to find your own words:-
Reading an art magazine I came a brief paragraph about a little known Australian woman artist, Violet Teague (1972-1951) who once took a taxi from an outer Melbourne suburb to central Australia. Intrigued, I did an internet search to find out more about her. The more I read, the more interested I became.
Born into a wealthy Melbourne family Violet was educated by a French governess then, later, at a private girl’s school. In the 1890s she travelled to Europe where she visited the art galleries and studied art in Belgium and England. Returning to Melbourne in the early 1900s she established herself portrait painter of international renown. She also co-created a book of woodcuts and haiku style verses with another woman artist. This book is now considered to be the first Australian artist book.
The story of how she came to take a taxi to outback Australia is particularly fascinating. During a prolonged drought in central Australia 1920s the pastor of the Hermannsburg Aboriginal Mission wanted to pipe good drinking water to the mission from a spring 7km away. Neither the church or the government would help him. In 1932 the Melbourne artist Jessie Traill visited Hermannsburg with Violet’s sister, Una. When they returned to Melbourne and told Violet how aboriginal people around the mission were dying because of the drought she became determined to do something.
Hiring a Studebaker taxi and driver Violet and her sister Una journeyed to the mission, nearly 2,500 km away from their home. Camping along the way, Violet painted delicate watercolours of the country they passed through.
When she returned to Melbourne Violet sold her paintings and other works donated by the Victorian Artist Society. She also set up newspaper appeals and was able to raise enough money to pay for the pipe line. Aboriginal men dug the trench to the spring by hand and in 1935 fresh water was piped into the mission.
It is in her paintings of the wild ocean coastline of Victoria that Violet Teague’s strength of character and indomitable spirit finds visual expression. She is an artist that deserves to be better known.