Green Matters: No Single Colour Of Paint Covers AU Tenant Energy Hardship

indistinct in the darkness, a family sits around a blazing campfire
Fireside photo by fotologic is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Energy hardship is a natural outcome of treating rental housing as a commodity, rather than sheltering it under a human rights umbrella. In many modern countries, the owner of a housing commodity can be expected to maximize profits by mitigating energy costs. That translates to spending as little as possible on the energy required for heating, cooling, cooking, washing, etc. For an investor-landlord, spending nothing extra at all would be ideal.

In Australia, a recent report finds that as many as 40% of renters currently suffer energy hardship. This 40% includes many low and no income renters who might otherwise be resident in social housing but compete with far too many similarly impoverished renters for far too few units.

In spite of enormous housing challenges and hardships experienced by the most vulnerable in the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a Green Revolution looms larger than ever over a world of changing climate.

What role will tenants play in this necessary Green Revolution?

Commodity-owning landlords will naturally stand upon their free enterprise rights to pass some or all of the costs of energy-saving improvements on to the shoulders of their tenants. But so many tenants are already cost burdened by rent, energy costs, health costs, as well as other basic necessities of life (e.g. food). The expectation that they will be able financially to take on any significant share of enhancing global energy efficiency is absurd.

What future then for nationally managed programs to bring Green efficiency to tenant accommodation? Should governments legislate to make the buck stop at the much wealthier class of landlords who might be forced to rent out homes “greened” to a higher standard than that which exists today?

Or should the government expect to subsidize greening for both landlords and tenants, either by biting a long term bullet, or adjusting commitments such as COVID recovery stimulus funding in order to achieve energy savings in the housing sector?

A recent report by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute proposes that improving energy efficiency in the housing sector will require a range of different green initiatives that reflect the disparate nature of different forms of housing. Those interested in the greening housing in other countries will find their analysis and conclusions useful.

What kinds of initiatives and programs with be needed? Start by reading the AHURi Executive Summary: Warm, cool and energy-affordable housing policy solutions for low-income renters