By KIERAN FINNANE
Do statistical averages give a fair picture of rents paid for housing in remote areas? Recently a presentation by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to the Alice Springs Town Council showed that the median weekly rent in MacDonnell and Central Desert Shires was $25 and $20 respectively.
Information from Territory Housing revealed that rent charges reflect the different levels of housing amenity and household income. People occupying existing houses, the majority, pay $20 to $40 on a per person basis. Territory Housing suggested that “the amounts quoted by ABS reflect an individual’s payment of rent under the “poll tax” method rather than a cumulative total of household rent received in line with the Remote Rent Framework”.
The Alice Springs News Online asked the ABS about the way the median weekly rent data was gathered. We received this reply: “In 2011, respondents were asked to provide the total amount paid for the household on either a weekly, monthly or fortnightly basis. This information was used to calculate the total reported rent paid for a dwelling.
“Additional information on whether a household is part of the Remote Rent Framework was not collected. However, the Census did collect information on whether a household was being rented from a public housing authority, or a housing co-operative, community or church group.”
We asked also whether only one respondent per household filled in a Census form or was interviewed, thus perhaps skewing the result in regards to rent. The reply: “There is one section on the Household Form (question 52 onwards) that requires one respondent to complete questions about the dwelling on behalf of the household. These questions refer to number of bedrooms, whether the dwelling is being rented and if the internet can be accessed form the dwelling. Several respondents in the one household may have completed other sections about themselves in the same Household Form (or requested a Personal Form), or been interviewed.”
We also asked demographer Andrew Taylor of The Northern Institute whether Census data could present a clearer or fairer picture of rents in remote areas (in line with Territory Housing’s comment) or is the mean weekly rent data the best that can be done.
Dr Taylor commented: “The ABS reports household rent not individual rent paid. It is not practice nor feasible for the ABS to collect data on and then report individual rental schemes via the Census (it is neither funded for this nor is it a practical proposition). The Census collects rent information in a consistent way across the nation to allow comparisons between areas and over time. Schemes like the Remote Rent Framework and the various other arrangements under which people at remote Indigenous communities (which comprise the bulk of the population in these shires) have and continue to pay rent come and go.
“My experience is that people don’t really know what rent their household pays because they may pay it individually and because it may be an automatic deduction from CDEP or other payments, while the Census question is about the household rent (the total of rent paid by individuals). I suspect the latter are under-reported. Consequently it is very difficult to get an accurate picture of housing affordability in remote shires like Barkley, MacDonnell and Central Desert.
“What will be really interesting is to track progress in the uptake of house purchases at remote communities given the introduction of private housing markets at many, which has been facilitated by the 99 year leases.”
The News had a look at the ABS Basic Community Profiles of Central Desert and MacDonnell for a more detailed statistical picture on rents and housing.
For MacDonnell, out of a total of 841 occupied rental dwellings, 627 were paying weekly rent in the $0 to $74 bracket; 54 in the $75 to $99 bracket; 21 in the $100 to $149 bracket. The figures in higher brackets were very small, but 121 respondents had not stated the amount of weekly rent being paid. Territory Housing was the authority for 396 dwellings, while 225 dwellings were in the hands of a housing cooperative, community or church group, and 179 had “other landlord”.
The majority of dwellings, 882 out of 1444, are separate houses (as opposed to flats etc). Only three dwellings are classified as “improvised”, while 62 are in the caravan or cabin category. A significant number of dwellings, 438, are categorised as “unoccupied”. At present only 32 separate houses are owned outright, and another eight are owned with mortgages.
For Central Desert, out of a total of 578 occupied rental dwellings, 473 were paying weekly rent in the $0 to $74 bracket; 12 in the $75 to $99 bracket; 15 in the $100 to $149 bracket. The figures in higher brackets were very small, but 68 respondents had not stated the amount of weekly rent being paid. Territory Housing was the authority for 375 dwellings, while 67 dwellings were in the hands of a housing cooperative, community or church group, and 105 had “other landlord”.
The majority of dwellings, 610 out of 961, are separate houses (as opposed to flats etc). Only five dwellings are classified as “improvised”, while 21 are in the caravan or cabin category. A significant number of dwellings, 293, are categorised as “unoccupied”. At present only 16 separate houses are owned outright, and another three are owned with mortgages.