COVID-19 Rental Housing and Homelessness Policy Impacts

This is the first of two planned reports from an ongoing investigation being undertaken as part of the UNSW-ACOSS Poverty and Inequality Partnership work program, and also supported by Mission Australia, National Shelter and Shelter WA.

The report – COVID-19 Rental Housing and Homelessness Impacts: an initial analysis – is part of the UNSW Sydney and Australian Council of Social Service’s Poverty and Inequality research partnership.

Rental Housing and Homelessness

Initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the research focuses primarily on the domains of rental housing and homelessness. Its main aims are to inform an understanding of:

  • What relevant policy shifts or innovations have been prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • How these policy innovations have been formulated
  • How policy innovations been implemented and with what effect – for both service delivery organisations and service users

Key Findings

This report shows how the gains made on reducing homelessness during the pandemic are slipping away and less than a third of those assisted with temporary hotel accommodation during the crisis were later transitioned into longer-term affordable housing.

Some other key findings of the research include that:

  • At least 30 per cent of rent variations merely deferred the rent, rather than reduced it. This implies that tenants with mounting deferred rent debts could number at least 75,000 across Australia in late 2020.
  • At least a quarter of all private renters lost income during the pandemic, but only a smaller minority got a rent variation from their landlord: between 8-16 per cent of renters, depending on the data source. A similar proportion was refused a variation; more were discouraged from asking and more left their tenancy.


Some of the data used comes from the City Futures COVID-19 renter survey.

The survey was conducted especially for the present research, with an online questionnaire in the field from mid-August to the end of October. Persons aged 18 years and older who were living in rental housing in Australia at 29 March 2020 (the date the National Cabinet announced the eviction moratorium) were eligible to participate; in total 312 persons took part, all but one were private tenants.

Read the full report here.

Updated Findings

In September 2021 updated findings previously reported in ‘COVID-19: Rental housing and homelessness impacts – an initial analysis’ – were published in ‘Australia’s Welfare 2021’. It contains a new analysis of AIHW SHS data that separately identifies ‘newly arising homelessness’ over the past three years, demonstrating a substantial reduction during 2020 (and running into 2021) largely attributable to rental evictions moratoriums.

Key Findings

  • State initiatives such as rental eviction moratoriums and Emergency Accommodation arrangements led to reduced number of newly arising homelessness in 2020/2021.
  • Non-residents faced particular challenges during the pandemic in Australia as they were ineligible for the majority of government income and housing supports.
  • House prices have increased due to federal and state housing construction stimulus funding.
  • By 2020, First Home Buyer mortgages increased 66 per cent from six months earlier.
  • The 2020 pandemic created unprecedented turbulence in the private rental market.
  • Average rental prices dropped throughout 2020 but have been rising again in 2021.
  • Rental prices have increased more rapidly and significantly in regional settings than in capital cities.
  • Renters were disproportionately impacted by job losses related to the pandemic and lockdowns.
  • As state-based supports have tapered off in 2021, pre-existing issues have prevailed in providing long term housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Read the full report here.