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Searching for the keys to the rental housing crisis

Before Louise* was asked to vacate the house she was renting, she had no idea of the magnitude of the current rental housing crisis. This Homelessness Week (1-7 August 2022), Louise shares her story, and Brendan Fitzhenry – Salvation Army Senior National Homelessness Specialist – shines a light on the rental housing crisis in Australia.

When Louise* was given 42 days to vacate the rental property she was living in after it was sold, she had no idea the housing crisis was so dire. Louise, who has a large family, had always successfully rented. However, as she applied for properties, she soon realised private rental options were severely limited and competition for those properties was fierce.

As application after application was rejected, Louise and her children faced the frightening prospect of moving into a tent.

“I had no friends or family that could accommodate us all,” Louise explains.

“I felt extremely vulnerable and distressed at the fact that I couldn’t provide a home for my children.”

Perfect storm in homelessness and housing crisis

The current rental housing crisis in Australia is the result of low levels of available rental properties, plus surging rental costs.

“It is the worst we have seen in decades,” says Brendan Fitzhenry, Salvation Army Senior National Homelessness Specialist. “It is driving increasing numbers of individuals and families – even those with reasonable incomes – into homelessness.”

Brendan explains causes include large numbers of properties damaged or destroyed after years of fires, floods and storms; increasing numbers of properties being bought by investors for holiday rentals; surging city and regional property prices locking younger and low-income groups out of the homebuyer market; and a significant decrease in affordable national social housing.

This is compounded by an increase in domestic and family violence; struggles with accumulated rental arrears following COVID-19 lockdowns; low incomes and high cost of living and the withdrawal of additional government supports that had been available through lockdowns.

If you or someone you know is at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness, please contact us. We have a range of support services for youth, adults and families.

Homelessness   Housing

Brendan says: “There has been historic under-investment by the government in social housing over the past few decades.

“In the mid-1990s, five to five-and-a-half per cent of households lived in social housing – public housing, community housing – but now that’s down to about three- -a-half per cent which is a very, very substantial and deeply worrying drop.

“There is also a sharp rise in recent years of those in housing stress (defined as more than 30 per cent of the gross household income going to housing) so all of that means a dire situation.”

If the cost of living is causing you stress and putting you at risk of homelessness, contact the Salvos today.

In Louise’s case, a call to The Salvation Army provided the family with the option of transitional accommodation.

They put their belongings in storage and moved into a transitional house late last year, just in time for Christmas. The Salvation Army also provided vouchers to buy food, some gifts for the kids and assistance with purchasing school uniforms for Louise’s primary-school-aged children.

“They were very supportive,” Louise shares. “Obviously, I was quite upset and emotional, thinking I was going to be homeless, and they reassured me.”

While she thought it would be temporary, Louise is still trying to lock in a private rental and says: “I applied for a big house [recently] and I thought that I’d be in for a good shot and there were 60 applicants.”

Crisis accommodation and transitional accommodation

While she is still struggling, Louise says: “I was extremely appreciative of having the opportunity to be housed and to speak to people at The Salvation Army who were able to assist me. If it wasn’t for them … I don’t know where I’d be to be honest … I’m very, very grateful.”

Life remains uncertain though. Louise says: “I have a lot of fear and anxiety [because even] if I get approved for a property and I sign a 12-month lease or 6-month lease, who’s to know … it’s just scary that the house could be sold and then you’re in the same position again.”

Understanding homelessness is one of the keys to ending homelessness. Learn more at our National Homelessness Week page.

National Homelessness Week 2022

As the largest provider of homelessness and housing services in Australia, The Salvation Army is working strategically to make the best use of resources and pinpoint the most urgent needs.

Brendan says: “In every state and territory, we undertake ongoing strategic planning, looking at where we most need to place our resources and efforts. In relation to families like Louise’s – one of our strategic priorities is supporting children facing homelessness, because we know what a devastating impact that can have on the mental health and future prospects of children.”

A community effort needed to fight homelessness

To help people facing homelessness, Brendan says it is essential for the public to stay informed and, when possible, donate to support homelessness services (and other associated services in the areas  of domestic and family violence, alcohol and other drug issues, and mental health).

He also recommends people lobby government on housing provision and support for the most economically vulnerable. Brendan would also like to see those with multiple dwellings, re-consider housing investment strategies and use of those houses.

 Secure housing for a family like Louise’s is essential,” Brendan says. “It flows on into being able to find work, connect with a community, stability of children’s schooling and much more.”

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* This is a true story with name changed to protect family privacy.

By Holly Reed and Naomi Singlehurst

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