12 May 2021

Rental reprieve extended as high rent forces Canberrans into financial hardship

| Dominic Giannini
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Aerial view of houses

Rental reprieve measures have been extended in the ACT for a further two months. Photo: Region Media.

Canberrans facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic will have an additional two months to repay rent in arrears, and cannot be evicted for being in arrears during this time.

The measure, which was first brought in during the pandemic, will now be extended until 30 June 2021, and allows renters in fixed-term leases who have been hit hard by COVID-19 to end their leases early without penalty.

But the reprieve is of little consolation for struggling Canberrans with a “cripplingly small portion of properties” being affordable for people relying on government payments, according to Anglicare’s most recent rental affordability snapshot.

For Wayne, a single father of two, the housing market was so rigid he was unable to secure accommodation when he lost his job and was forced to sleep in a tent with his young children during winter because no emergency houses were free.

READ MORE ACT housing crisis puts family of eight at risk of homelessness

Wayne ended up losing his job because he had to attend his eight-year-old daughter’s school frequently because her grades and behaviour deteriorated.

There are virtually no houses available in Canberra for anyone receiving JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or single parenting payments, the analysis found.

Waiting lists for public housing are also stretched, with almost 2800 applicants waiting for housing as of 5 April, 2021, according to the ACT Community Services Directorate.

This includes more than 180 people on the priority list, which has an average wait time of 287 days; and more than 1600 on the high-needs list, which has an average wait time of 879 days.

The rest of the cohort in line for social housing have an average wait of almost four years. Welfare groups say the ACT needs at least 3000 additional affordable dwellings.

Dr Emma Campbell

ACT Council of Social Service CEO Dr Emma Campbell said the ACT’s housing market is an unjust system for people on lower incomes. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Across the ACT and Queanbeyan, zero per cent of properties were affordable for anyone on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or single parent payments.

For a single person on minimum wage, only four per cent of properties were classified as affordable, and this decreased to three per cent for a couple with no children on the age pension, and to two per cent for a single person on the aged pension.

Affordable housing was calculated as 30 per cent of household income.

Canberra has become Australia’s most expensive city to rent due to low housing stock, according to CoreLogic data from January 2021.

The median rent for a house has jumped to almost $660 a week, while apartments will set back renters more than $470 a week on average.

CEO of the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), Dr Emma Campbell, said after similar figures had been recorded during the past decade, it is no longer a housing crisis, but rather an unjust system.

READ ALSO Social housing project for women in Ainslie gets green light

In the past six years, the highest percentage of affordable housing in any category in Canberra was seven per cent for a single person on minimum wage, in 2016.

“It is no longer reasonable to refer to this as a housing crisis, so much as a system that is working as intended – to exclude those facing disadvantage,” said Dr Campbell.

“The lack of affordable options means low-income Canberrans are left with no choice but to apply for and accept rental tenancy agreements that place them in rental stress.

“This can lead to situations where they are forced to forgo heating, fresh food, or medical appointments in order to keep up with rent.”

Rental affordability has been a perennial problem in Canberra due to high rents that can often lock people who are on low income out of the market.

For more information about the rental reprieve measures, visit here.

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