21 January: High rents pushing more renters to brink of homelessness

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New data shows that renters in Victoria are turning to homelessness agencies in increasing numbers, a trend being driven by rising rents and a lack of social housing, says the peak body for homelessness.

According to AIHW, almost 30,000 private renters and mortgagees sought help from homelessness services in 2013/14, an increase of 30 per cent from 23,000 the previous year.

The Council to Homeless Persons(CHP), Victoria’s peak homelessness body, says that a lack of affordable housing is at the core of the problem, and that Victoria desperately needs an affordable housing strategy that would both improve the private rental market and boost
Victoria’s social housing stock to the national average of 5 per cent (social housing currently makes up only 3.4% of Victoria’s housing stock).

“The rising cost of rent is putting the pressure on the average person, but it’s suffocating people on a low income. We need to increase the level of social housing in Victoria so that vulnerable people aren’t forced to pay high rent at the expense of groceries and bills, or worse yet, find
themselves on the brink of homelessness,” said Jenny Smith, the CEO of CHP.

“Median rent in Melbourne has just tipped to $400 per week, and only 8-in-100 rentals are affordable to someone on a low income.”

“We also need to make sure the homelessness sector is equipped to intervene early to help vulnerable renters avoid eviction and homelessness. Once people have fallen into homelessness, the damaging cycle takes hold, and it’s much harder to re-house people.”

Rebecca, a single mother renting in Werribee, fell into rental arrears after she was forced to stop work to care for her ill daughter. With no family networks to turn to, Rebecca says that she constantly struggles to pay the monthly rent of $1218, which is 65 per cent of her income. She was helped by Yarra Community Housing to catch up on rent.

“I’ve never asked for help my whole life. I used to have my own business, and then things took a turn for the worst and I just got further and further behind. If I hadn’t been able to get help, my daughter and I would have been forced to live in my car,” said Rebecca.

“After paying rent I have nothing over at the end of the week, so it’s impossible for me to put away savings. I’ve looked for cheaper rent, but there’s so much competition, and so few places that I can afford.”

But with 34,600 people on the public housing waiting list in Victoria, there are very few safetynets to catch people like Rebecca.

“I was told I would have to wait nearly 30 years to get into public housing, so I didn’t even bother putting my name down on the list,” she said.

Fast facts

  • 100,000 Victorians sought assistance from homelessness services in 2013/14; 30,000 of them were in private rental
  • 34,600 people are waiting for public housing in Victoria, and thousands more are on community housing waiting lists
  • Victoria has the lowest proportion of social housing (i.e. public and community housing) in Australia, at 3.4% (the national average is 4.8%)
  • 1-in-4 renters in Victoria are experiencing rent stress, paying more than they can afford in rent (CHP analysis of Census data)