Canberrans facing financial hardship will now be able to access an additional $1.81 million in ACT Government grants following the expansion of the Rent Relief Fund.
This brings the total allocated grants under the fund to $2.51 million since it launched in April this year.
Carmel Franklin, CEO of Care, the community organisation responsible for administering the grants, said demand has been extremely high.
“The first round was oversubscribed. There was a really high demand and the money ran out in around five months,” she said, adding that Care was still receiving inquiries even after the applications had closed.
Since its launch, the fund has helped more than 300 Canberrans struggling with short-term rental stress, and the funding boost will mean more households can benefit from this assistance.
Canberra remains one of the most expensive cities in Australia for renters, though rents have stabilised in the last 12 months. The median weekly rent for houses in Canberra stood at $707 and the median weekly rent for units was $581, the second highest in Australia.
The fund offers tenants suffering from rental stress or severe financial hardship a one-off grant for up to four weeks’ rent, capped at $2500 and paid directly to the landlord or grantor. They will also be offered support services to help manage rental costs over the longer term.
“We know from our last few months just how valuable these rent relief grants have been,” Ms Franklin said.
“People who have got the grants have been able to redirect some of their funds to pay for essentials costs for their children, medical expenses, catch up on utility bills, education costs.
“For some, it’s also allowed them to pay off the rent arrears that they’ve come to get because either a change in their life circumstances or just because of the range of cost-of-living pressures that we’re facing at the moment.”
One of the renters who benefitted from the grant was Eoghan Clwyde, his partner and their baby son, Flynn.
Eoghan’s young family faced financial hardship around the time his partner was getting ready to give birth and they found out Flynn was going to be premature.
“With that comes a lot more specialised equipment. We had to get a specific capsule, a specific pram, a specific cot, there was a higher risk of SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome],” he explained.
“That was all, I don’t want to say unexpected, but extra expenses that we didn’t quite have the money for at the time, and they weren’t dropped on us until about three or four weeks before he was born, so this program came at terrific timing.”
Eoghan said the Care team was “terrific” and helped them through every step of the process, answering their questions.
He said the grant wasn’t something he and his partner had thought they would need to access.
“We actually were in new accommodation at the time so we did expect a couple of struggles, but nothing that we couldn’t overcome ourselves. But with the new equipment we had to get, it put a little bit of strain on it, so it wasn’t something that we anticipated or expected to access. But it was very good that we did.”
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said early feedback on the Rent Relief Fund has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People have spoken very sincerely about the impact this has made in helping them overcome some of those short-term difficulties and be able to get by and get their lives back on track in terms of being able to regularly pay their rent and not suddenly find themselves having to move because not only is there the risk of homelessness. Just the upheaval of having to move and the costs involved in that, it all becomes compounding,” he said.
“This payment is particularly important in helping people maintain the tenancy they might be in, whether it’s for themselves or for a larger family group.”
Mr Rattenbury said, given the success of the scheme so far, it is likely there will be further expansion to come.
“We think it will last longer,” he said, adding that the government will continue to review the criteria of the grants if needed.
“The flexibility of the mechanism … has been shown through the fact that we’ve been able to set it up and it’s worked well. We’re going to look at that, take the evidence and say, ‘Yes, this is an effective program, we can extend it’. And we have an opportunity to do that in the future if we need to.”
For more information on the Rent Relief Fund, visit the Care website.