CEO’s call for emergency response to housing crisis in Open Letter to Premier

CEO’s from organisations providing emergency relief funding, support to renters in the private rental market, and peak bodies have established a Housing Emergency Response group to identify and drive immediate solutions in partnership with government to mitigate the impact and harm of the housing crisis.

The Housing Emergency Response Group has released an Open Letter to the Premier today to convey their acute concern and to outline four key priorities to mitigate the impact and harm of the housing crisis on West Australians.

“This housing crisis demands a whole of government response and we are keen to work with the new McGowan Government building on initiatives put in place in response to the pandemic. The immediate priority must be supporting people to remain in their rental homes and ensuring people who have had to leave their rental home are not exiting into homelessness.”

Shelter WA CEO Michelle Mackenzie said.

Centrecare’s Entrypoint service provides assessment and referrals for people experiencing and at risk of homelessness has reported a significant surge in calls.

“We’re getting thousands of calls a month with people absolutely desperate to find a home. We cannot keep up”.

Centrecare CEO Tony Pietropiccolo said.

“Services are seeing increasing levels of distress in the community and amongst their staff, and there is an acute concern for the welfare of children and women living in a family and domestic violence situation which they cannot escape.”

Anglicare WA CEO Mark Glasson said.

”The current situation is placing an increasing number of renters and renter households, including children, at greater risk of mental ill health effects. Services also have significant concern about the ongoing mental health impact on staff as they respond to an overwhelming increase in demand and increasingly a sense of hopelessness.”

WA Association of Mental Health CEO Taryn Harvey said.

“An urgent government response is needed because services are under growing pressure to support people in crisis and find housing which is simply not there.”

WA Council of Social Service CEO Louise Giolitto said.

The Group is calling on the government to focus on four priority areas:

  1. An emergency welfare response to the impact of the ending of the rental moratorium.
  2. Surety of ongoing Emergency Relief funding, to keep people in their homes.
  3. Urgent identification and provision of housing and short to medium accommodation options to ensure people who have had to leave their rental property are not exiting into homelessness. This includes spot purchases of vacant homes, using suitable government land, and rapid construction of modular homes in partnership with the community housing sector; and
  4. A joint meeting with the Ministers for Housing, Communities, and Commerce to discuss a coordinated housing and services response during this period.

The Emergency Response Group has also compiled new data on the impact of the moratorium lifting.

One service providing tenancy and legal support is reporting:

  • A 483% increase in our eviction caseload since the moratorium ended.
  • From April to May 4th there were 25 hearings listed in court, and they expect this to at least double.

 Another service providing private tenancy support is reporting:

  • 50% of their client caseload (about 150 clients) have been served notices of eviction or rental arrears. They note clients in significant numbers are being evicted or terminated for a variety of reasons – rent arrears, reduced income so unaffordable, rent increase or termination of tenancies to enable rent increases, separation or FDV leading to issues in sustaining tenancies etc. FDV has been increasing across our Metro programs.
  • Clients are sourcing alternative short term housing options such as living in cars, utilising tents, staying on people’s floors because they have no real possibility of securing a tenancy. Many individuals are being referred to housing services when they are already close to eviction. This makes advocacy and negotiation more difficult as it is less likely to be successful.
  • Families with children and individuals with a disability living in their cars because they cannot locate or secure a property- the level of poverty and trauma people are experiencing is higher than ever and the ability to assist individuals to return to ‘normality’ after this period of difficulty is going to be long and challenging. We are seeing a cohort of individuals never impacted by insecure housing now significantly at risk of housing trauma.
  • There has been a significant increase in clients. Level of complexity is increasing, and the time spent on each call is increasing.
  • Clients are demonstrating significant trauma in the current housing situation. Many are reaching a period of realisation that there are ‘no’ options. Individuals are applying for multiple properties and being unsuccessful and negotiations with current real estate or landlords are not being successful due to the length of time the arrears and or relationship breakdown has existed. There is now a real likelihood of eviction which many have never faced before.

Circle Green Community Legal are reporting:

  • The number of total calls received by Circle Green are still approximately 200 per day, the majority are tenancy calls. We answer approximately half of these calls.
  • In the March/April period, we saw an increase of over 200% in advice given about terminations, compared to figures from November/December.
  • These figures are based on legal advice we are actually delivering, and not necessarily reflective of ‘all people attempting to access our tenancy service’ nor those people we refer.

“The Premier’s success and hard work over the COVID pandemic to keep Western Australians safe is strongly commended.  COVID-19 has showed the importance of having a home to keep everybody safe and well. Housing is the foundation for a safe, strong and stable society, and a provides the platform for opportunity for all West Australians. The government has put some good initiatives in place, but the level of crisis requires a focused and dedicated emergency response.  We look forward to working with government on solutions we’ve proposed today.” Ms Mackenzie said.

*We are encouraging all reporters covering this issue to provide the following details in the story*

Tenants who require support can contact:

  • Consumer Protection – for evictions and tenancy advice – 1300 304 054
  • Circle Green Community Legal – for all tenancy advice – 6148 3636
  • Financial Counsellors of WA – for financial counselling https://financialcounsellors.org/public/ and National Debt Helpline 1800 007 007.
  • WAConnect.org.au – for emergency relief near you

Key Facts:

  • At May 2021, the median rent for houses is $440, having increase of 19% in the last twelve months or $70 per week. The median rent for units is $390, having increased 15% in the last twelve months or $50 per week. (Source: REIWA 6 May 2021).
  • There is a shortfall of 39,200 social and 19,300 affordable homes across WA.
  • The WA rental vacancy rate is at a 40-year low.
  • The WA rental market is unaffordable for low-income households with over 50% of WA’s renters on low incomes in rental stress.
  • There are over 30,000 people are on the wait list for social housing (15,825 applications at April 1, 2021) – an increase of 1000 applications in the last twelve months.
  • The priority waitlist for social housing has increase by 46%.
  • Only 119 social housing properties were built in the last three years and in the last three years the number of social homes decreased by 1155 properties.

Other Documents:

  • View open letter here
  • View the communique here

Media Contact

Chantal Caruso | 0447 201 377 / (08) 9325 6660 | projects@shelterwa.org.au