Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 8 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 3028..
MR HARGREAVES: My question is directed to the Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services. I noticed in today's Canberra Times an article about an increase in the rents charged by ACT Housing to its tenants. Why have the rents increased? What is the minister doing to ensure that those increases do not impact adversely on those on low incomes in our community?
MR WOOD: This year, as in other years, public housing rents will increase on 19 October by an average of 11.7 per cent. That 11.7 per cent increase is an average; so some people will experience lower increases, some people will experience higher increases and some people will not experience any changes. A small number of people might even have their rents reduced. The government has advised all ACT Housing tenants how those changes will impact on them.
I believe that the majority of ACT Housing tenants will receive that advice today. I am sure that all members know that, unlike renters in the private sector, public housing tenants have the benefit of never having to pay more than 25 per cent of their total gross household income in rent. I encourage any tenants who are currently paying full market rent and who believe that they will now be paying more than 25 per cent of their gross household income in rent to apply immediately for a rental rebate.
This latest inevitable increase is in accordance with the Housing Assistance Act, which requires that public housing rents be reviewed annually to keep them in line with the private market. That is what is being done. Last year, the same circumstances saw a rental increase of 18 per cent and in the previous year there was a rental increase, on average, of 9.8 per cent. As is always the case, this year's changes were made following independent valuations that determined the private rental market in individual suburbs and assessed public housing rents in the light of the age and condition of individual properties.
This fairly steep increase reflects one of the downsides of the rapidly increasing price of houses and, therefore, of rents in the ACT. These changes mean that the rent for an average three-bedroom house will rise from $224 to $250 and, for a two-bedroom flat, from $180 to $200. However, I emphasise that the overwhelming majority of tenants-84 per cent of tenants-will not be affected at all because they receive the rental rebate that caps their rent at 25 per cent of their household income. Approximately 9,400 public housing tenants receive this rebate, while 1,800 tenants pay full market rent.
Last financial year the ACT government provided more than $51 million in rental rebate subsidies to public housing tenants. As I mentioned earlier, people paying full market rent could find themselves eligible for a rebate if their revised rental exceeds 25 per cent of their household income. People who believe that they are now entitled to a rebate or who believe that the new market rental is incorrect should contact ACT Housing. All members would be aware that the rental market remains tight and that private rents are high. In fact, in many cases private rents in Canberra are higher than the rents for similar properties in comparable areas of Sydney.