NEWSFLASH! In September I will join The Conversation as its Business and Economy Editor. I have been honoured to work at The Age for the past ten years, originally alongside the legendry Tim Colebatch, and for the past four years as economics editor in my own right.

At The Conversation, my job will be to make the best thinking from Australia's 40 univerisites accessible to the widest possible audience. That means you. From the new year I will also write a weekly column.

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I'll continue to post great things from The Conversation and other places here, and also on Twitter and Facebook. Enjoy.

Friday, October 16, 2015

No longer a nation of homeowners, we're renting

Once a nation of homeowners, we are becoming a nation of renters.

It's been two years since the latest update on housing occupancy and the one released on Friday show the proportion of households renting has edged up to 31.4 per cent. The proportion owning outright is only a point or two in front, at 32.5 per cent. Around 35 per cent of homes are mortgaged.

Back before the tax change that ignited negative gearing at the end of the 1990s around 40 per cent of households owned outright, and only 28 per cent rented.

It's the flipside of the boom in second properties that has made Australia a nation of landlords. The Bureau of Statistics says an extraordinary 1.5 million households now own properties they don't live in. Among high earners 39 per cent own a second, third or fourth property.

The extra properties need tenants, and the higher prices the landlords have been prepared to pay to get the properties have created a new class of tenants - those who once would have been able to afford to buy in their own right.

In September 1999 the Howard government halved the headline rate of capital gains tax, making the life of a negatively geared landlord suddenly up to twice as attractive as it had been.

So popular has the lifestyle become that the Bureau of Statistics reports that about 300,000 landlords don't live in their own homes. They rent out, while renting elsewhere themselves.

Among households headed by Australians aged under 35 an extraordinary 63.4 per cent rent.

Labor has held out the prospect of some sort of action to wind back negative gearing in order to make owner-occupation more affordable.

Tony Abbott ruled it out, but there's a glimmer of hope. Malcolm Turnbull is prepared to think again.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald