18 May 2020

Rentwell's Canberra property investors are changing people's lives

| Frances Crimmins
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Frances Crimmins

CEO of YWCA Canberra Frances Crimmins announcing Rentwell. Photo: File.

Canberra’s rental market has a deserved reputation for being competitive and unaffordable.

Anglicare’s 2020 Rental Affordability Snapshot data on the ACT and Queanbeyan region reflects what many of us have observed at open home inspections and auctions – that secure and affordable housing is out of reach for many in our community.

The study showed that for Canberrans on the Disability Support Pension, couples where one is on the minimum wage and the other is a stay-at-home parent, or for people on the Parenting Payment, there are zero affordable rentals in Canberra.

For a single person on the recently increased JobSeeker payment, just 2.5 per cent of rentals are affordable, and just one per cent of rentals are affordable for a person on the age pension.

YWCA Canberra’s Our Lives: Women in the ACT survey confirmed Canberra women are struggling to maintain rental tenure, with several examples of women providing housekeeping services in exchange for accommodation, with others couch surfing or sleeping in cars.

As a longstanding provider of housing for women and families, YWCA Canberra has seen escalating housing costs, income stagnation and low or non-existent superannuation result in a situation where older women, many of whom have worked their whole lives and had conventional housing histories, are unable to participate in the private rental market. Tragically, older women are now the fastest-growing cohort of homeless Australians.

This data pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, so we can assume that an even greater number of people are finding themselves out of work, or on reduced hours, and wondering how they will keep a roof over their heads.

Collectively, we can and must do more to ensure the most vulnerable members of our community have a place to call home.

To respond to this urgent issue, in May 2019 we launched Rentwell, our affordable property management service. Rentwell offers philanthropic property investors the opportunity to change someone’s life by providing them with the housing they can comfortably afford.

In its first year of operation, Rentwell has secured 25 properties, transforming the lives of 49 people. Our tenants all have unique stories: they are single-parent families, older women, migrants and workers. Since domestic violence is the leading cause of women’s homelessness, many of our clients had been sleeping in their cars after escaping violence before being housed through Rentwell.

While the lives of our 49 tenants have been positively changed, investors have also shared with us the sense of fulfilment they get from being able to give back to the community through increasing the supply of affordable and sustainable housing.

Along with Canberra’s other frontline service providers, YWCA Canberra has seen a noticeable upswing in requests for outreach and assistance from new and existing clients. More than ever, providing people with a safe and affordable place to live should be embraced as a community-wide responsibility that we can all contribute to.

If you’d like to contribute to addressing the housing crisis, visit Rentwell.

Frances Crimmins is the CEO of YWCA Canberra.

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