Elite AgentOPINION

Nerida Conisbee: Is corporate ownership the answer to Australia’s rental crisis?

In the US, large companies currently own five per cent of rental properties.

This asset class is referred to as ‘multi-family’ in the US and is the largest property investment type in that country.

A study released last week by MetLife Investment Management has forecast that by 2030, the proportion of rental properties owned by corporations will increase to 40 per cent.

A US renter will be just as likely to be renting from a large company as a private landlord by this time. 

In Australia, ‘multi-family’, or build-to-rent as we call it, is still in its infancy.

There are currently 3800 built-to-rent homes completed with a further 8400 under construction and 22,500 proposed.

Once all of these are complete, it will still only mean 1.2 per cent of all rental properties are owned by companies.

It’s far less than what is owned by companies in the US and still a fraction of what is owned by private landlords (typically mum and dad investors), which sits at 84 per cent.

The government currently owns around nine per cent, with the remainder being a mix of not-for-profit organisations such as charities, as well as religious groups. 

With Australia currently in the midst of a rental crisis, the question of who provides rental properties needs to be considered.

We have relied heavily on private landlords for almost all our rental properties but we may not be able to so readily in the future. 

The problem with relying on one group for almost all of our rental properties is that when conditions discourage that group from investing, it impacts the supply of properties available.

From housing finance data it’s apparent that right now, there are fewer new loans being written to private landlords.

Cost of finance is high and it is more difficult to get loans. Even if you are able to get a loan there is a shortage of properties for sale.

Providing a wider mix of landlord types better improves the resilience of rental availability. 

Another group that could potentially provide more rental properties are state and federal governments.

The track record of this provision hasn’t been great.

Necessarily, the government should be providing homes for our most vulnerable, however the number of social housing tenancies has been cut in half since the 1990s.

This needs to be fixed before the wider rental market is even considered.

Regardless, the pandemic has left the government sector with very high debts and some of the mechanisms that other countries use to provide cheaper housing, such as provision of government owned land, are not possible. 

Foreign private investors were a significant contributor to rental properties last decade but are currently far less active. Investment from China, the biggest contributor, has dropped significantly.

Reducing some of the blockages such as higher stamp duty and taxes may help.

Even if Australian restrictions are pulled back, there is little that can be done to restrictions put in place in other countries. 

Right now, large companies are one of the few groups still active in the provision of rental properties, as well as being able to attract funding to do so.

We are still a long way from even closely resembling the US currently in the corporate ownership of rental properties, let alone the forecast provided by MetLife.

But planning for greater diversification of rental property ownership should be encouraged and build-to-rent is our best bet to supply enough homes for the future. 

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Nerida Conisbee

Nerida Conisbee is the Chief Economist at Ray White.