MEDIA RELEASE: Social and affordable housing critical post-COVID-19 recovery

Thousands of low-income West Australians will continue to face housing insecurity and homelessness in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis if the WA Government does not urgently invest in social and affordable housing, Shelter WA CEO Michelle Mackenzie warns.

Ms. Mackenzie says she was alarmed, but not surprised, at the results of this year’s Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot which revealed, that despite additional Commonwealth ‘Coronavirus Supplementary payments’, renters on income support continue to be severely disadvantaged in the private rental market.

The Snapshot reveals the absence of any real affordable rental housing for people on low incomes. There will be even more pressure on the pool of available homes for rent as people are thrown into financial turmoil as a result of the virus so there could be a tsunami of homelessness once the Coronavirus Supplement payments cease.

“The Snapshot confirms what we continue to hear from our members. The private rental sector was already unaffordable for people on low incomes and COVID-19 has made this worse. With so much of people’s income being spent on the rent, many renters are having to go without many of the necessities most of us take for granted.

“Many people think we have dodged a bullet when it comes to the impact of the virus, but it is impossible to avoid the economic fallout. There is no denying that this pandemic will result in more people’s homes being put at risk and more people at risk of homelessness. There is only so long a rental eviction moratorium can remain in place.”

Ms. Mackenzie said the report revealed the critical shortfall of affordable rental housing, with only some sections within the community being thrown a lifeline by the short-term COVID-19 supplements.

“There will be ongoing challenges ahead, particularly for people on disability support and aged care pensions who are not eligible for the supplement. Also for people who have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for urgent investment in social and affordable housing – this investment must be considered as a public health and economic response, not a welfare issue. Also it has highlighted the need for a permanent increase in income support.

“Without safe, secure, and affordable housing, evidence shows that people are more susceptible to chronic illness and disease,” Ms. Mackenzie said. “It is almost impossible to maintain education or hold down a job if you do not have a home.

“Investing in social and affordable housing means we can reduce the burden on the public hospital system, particularly in the case of a virus like COVID-19, as housing enables people to self-isolate, preventing the spread of disease.

“Investment in housing will not only protect individuals and the community but will create jobs and stimulate the economy. We need to act now to ensure we have the social and affordable housing needed for the economic recovery ahead.”

Ms. Mackenzie said the short-term supplement has helped some households, but the reality is that rental affordability is an ongoing issue. Long term solutions are needed now, and we agree with the recommendation from the Report to increase the amount of social housing dwellings by at least 15 per cent and to provide targeted rental assistance programs in the private rental market.

“Without these initiatives many people in our community will continue to spend a disproportionate amount of their income on rent, or remain homeless, this is not acceptable.”

To arrange an interview with our CEO Michelle Mackenzie, please contact Heather Bush, Head of Communications and Marketing here.

Fast Facts

• The Rental Affordability Snapshot was taken just before the Australian Government announced a temporary increase to some government income payments in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. This year’s snapshot presents the findings in two ways: one before the Coronavirus Supplement and one after that presumes the Supplement is made permanent. The Methodology shows the number of affordable and suitable homes for rent for people on low incomes on the weekend of 21 March 2020. It then uses the same property listings to measure affordability for the same WA households if the temporary supplements were made permanent.

• The ‘Coronavirus Supplement’ is an additional $550 per fortnight and the one-off payment of $750 to all new and existing recipients of the Jobseeker (formerly Newstart), Youth Allowance, and Parenting Payments from 27 April 2020, in addition to their normal payments, but only for a period of 6 months.

• Rent is described as unaffordable when households spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

• A single person on the Job Seeker payment can afford 0 per cent of properties in the Perth metro region and only 1 per cent with the Coronavirus Supplement payment.

• To meet the median rent in the Perth Metro region, a single person on the Job seeker payment would need to spend 65 per cent per week of income on rent.

• A couple on the Job Seeker payment can afford 1 per cent of properties in the Perth metro region and 30% of properties with the Coronavirus Supplement payment.

• A couple on an Age Pension can afford $227 a week in rent, making just three per cent of the listed properties in the Perth Metro region affordable.

• A single person on the disability support pension can afford to spend $159 per week on rent, making 0per cent affordable in the South West and Great Southern regions.