Samaritans is calling on government to permanently increase rates of government support payments and supply of housing, following the release of the Rental Affordability Snapshot for 2020.
Year on year, Samaritans has highlighted the lack of affordable rentals for the most vulnerable in our community with the compilation of a research snapshot to highlight the lived experience of looking for housing while on a low income.
“This year’s snapshot follows one of Australia’s worst droughts, a devastating bushfire season and the beginning of an unprecedented global pandemic,” Samaritans CEO, Brad Webb, said.
“These three major disasters have left people homeless, jobless or both. Australians are experiencing their greatest financial and emotional hardships ever, some for the first time,” Mr Webb said.
Whilst temporary government payments and supplements may be supporting people impacted by COVID-19 for now, once those measures are reversed our communities will face increased homelessness and housing stress.
“In 2020, this scenario of hardship is becoming a reality for some who never thought this might be their situation. This year’s research demonstrates that increases to income support should be open to all people in need, and they should be permanent. We need an independent body to set and monitor social security rates so Australia will never again trap people in a poverty cycle,” Mr Webb, said.
The research also demonstrates that there is a significant shortfall in the supply of housing to meet the demand for affordable rentals.
“Rental Affordability is a two-fold issue. While income support certainly addresses immediate and real pressures on families, in the medium term we need increased investment in actual dwellings to meet the housing needs of our community- especially those who are vulnerable,” Mr Webb said.
Nationally, the Snapshot shows that a person who is out of work can afford less than 2% of rentals – and that’s with their payments doubled with additional JobSeeker payments (formerly Newstart).
In the Hunter region, where there may have been no rentals affordable and appropriate for a young person on youth allowance, the increased coronavirus supplement may now open them up to 13% of properties available throughout Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
Young people like Sophia* have experienced that rental stress firsthand, with her youth allowance payments only just covering rent and basic electricity and water.
“After rent, I usually have about $100 a week- you really have to consider how you spend this with food and petrol a priority- most young renters have to work multiple jobs to get by. I had a casual retail job, but we’ve had to close due to COVID-19. While I will receive JobKeeper eventually, it’s been a tough few weeks making ends meet,” Sophia said.
“COVID-19 has seen many of my friends return to their parents- but this is not possible or safe for everyone. While university studies continue, work doesn’t and it has been hard to negotiate with landlords to get a hold on rental payments while undertaking mid-semester university exams,” she said.
The severe affordable housing shortage coupled with the COVID-19 crisis is expected to disproportionately affect those that are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness, as well as those with existing indicators of disadvantage such as Indigenous Australians, those experiencing family and domestic violence or people living below the poverty line.
“Our research indicates aged pensioners and people with a disability are at the very bottom of the market, and can afford between 2-5% of rentals, depending on their support payments. Both of these groups have not received an increase to their payments amid the COVID-19 crisis,” Mr Webb said.
The weekly median rent for a property in Newcastle during the snapshot period was $420, however a single person receiving the aged pension could afford a maximum rent of $158.60 per week or $227.37 for a couple.
“Long-term government commitment is required to avoid a vicious cycle of increased homelessness and housing stress. The Federal Government must take the lead and develop a National Housing Strategy to increase the availability of social and affordable housing.
“Samaritans has witnessed Australians caring deeply about the hardship in their neighbourhoods and communities with their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite their own fear and vulnerabilities,” Mr Webb said.
“We’re calling on government to do the same. All levels of government have a real opportunity to invest in social and affordable housing. We need 500,000 new social and affordable rentals across Australia and this investment in housing would be the most powerful way to tackle the rental crisis,” Mr Webb said.