Vulnerable ‘priced out’ of regional properties

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The results of an annual rental affordability survey reveal an alarming lack of rental properties for people on low incomes in regional South Australia.

With findings based on private rentals advertised in March, the Rental Affordability Snapshot showed no properties for rent in the Limestone Coast, Riverland or Murraylands were affordable for adults who are single and on Youth Allowance or JobSeeker.

For a property to have been considered affordable, its rent would need to have been no more than 30% of a household’s budget.

The study, released last week and conducted nationally by Anglicare Australia and partner agencies, found that locally, young adults on Youth Allowance were even locked out of the share house rental market, following a recent housing boom in regional areas.

Moreover, only two out of 123 rental properties on the market were affordable for singles on the age and disability support pensions. Anglican Community Care (ac.care) chief executive Shane Maddocks said it was concerning to see renters on low incomes continue to be “left behind and forgotten” in the private rental market.

He said the looming end of eviction moratoriums on May 31 and the removal of the right in South Australia to defer rental payments, would place vulnerable people at risk of homelessness.

“On top of it all, cuts to JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and other payments came into effect at the beginning of April as the coronavirus supplements were wound back,” Mr Maddocks said.

“Renters on low incomes are facing the perfect storm as incomes reduce and protections disappear, while the private rental market continues to fail them.”

Mr Maddocks added the shortage of affordable rentals would “condemn” people to make difficult decisions to keep a roof over their heads. “Some will be turning to ac.care or other services in our region to make the rent,” he said.

For families out of work, the situation is also problematic. The survey found an out-of-work couple with two children can afford to pay the rent at 24 (20%) properties on the market.

Single parents out of work face even tougher odds, with rental affordability at just 10%, the survey found. “This helps explain why the rate of JobSeeker is such a critical factor in child poverty – one in six children now lives in poverty, with those growing up in households that depend on JobSeeker at much greater risk,” Mr Maddocks said.

People with disabilities faced unique challenges in the rental market, the snapshot found, with Disability Support Pension recipients able to afford just 2% of rentals. Outcomes for renters on a national scale are just as dire.

The local data collected for the Rental Affordability Snapshot form part of a national study, which found only three rentals across all metropolitan Australia are affordable for singles on JobSeeker.

Furthermore, it arrives a month after JobSeeker received an overall reduction, following the expiration of the $150 coronavirus supplement amid a permanent $50 fortnightly increase to the support scheme.

This brought the fortnightly payment rate to $620 for a person who is single with no children, with the rate varying depending on the family dynamic. Mr Maddocks described the results of the regional survey as “a wake-up call”.

Echoing calls from other advocacy groups, ac.care is urging the Federal Government to raise payments for people on the nation’s lowest incomes, to lift them out of poverty and housing stress.

“Raising the rate of JobSeeker and related payments above the poverty line will give badly needed relief to the people on the lowest incomes,” Mr Maddocks said. ac.care has also called for greater investment in affordable housing, increases to Commonwealth Rent Assistance to keep pace with the skyrocketing cost of renting and a plan to end homelessness.

“People who are homeless need safe, secure homes to help them get back on their feet,” Mr Maddocks said. “Being stuck indefinitely in temporary emergency accommodation is not the answer.

“We need a plan to end homelessness that tackles the causes of homelessness, including the lack of affordable housing, poverty and family violence, together with funding and support to rehouse people who are homeless, helping them keep a roof over their head.

“Nobody should be forced to make impossible sacrifices just to keep a roof over their head,” he said. “It’s time to take real action and make sure that everyone can have place to call home.”

The release of national findings from Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot came shortly before the SA government announced a pledge to increase homelessness support services and to establish an “Australian first” alliance approach between non-government partners across the state.

Premier Steven Marshall also revealed that $71.5m would be committed to specialised homelessness services, up from $67.9m the previous year. Mr Marshall described the changes to the system as “the biggest shake-up of homelessness services in more than a decade”.

“We want better outcomes for our most vulnerable and today we draw a line in the sand to ensure we achieve that,” he said. The five new alliances- made up of Adelaide North, Adelaide South, Country North, Country South and a state-wide Domestic and Family Violence service – include participants from the non-profit space and the SA Housing Authority.

According to the state government, the alliances will be required to intervene early to prevent people falling into homelessness and to support people into safe, stable and long-term housing to prevent them from cycling in-and-out of homelessness.

In the Country South region, encompassing the Limestone Coast, the alliance will be led by ac.care, with participants including Junction Australia, Pangula Mannamurna Aboriginal Corporation and Moorundi Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service.

Centacare Catholic Country and Centacare Catholic Family Services Junction Australia will participate in the state-wide Domestic and Family Violence alliance.

The alliances’ operations will start July 1, 2021.

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