Friends, it's brutal out there. The rental market in Australia is a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world and as a renter who is finding herself in need of a new home for her family, I'm seriously feeling the pressure.
Last week, a property manager who had opened a house for inspection did little to make me feel better about the situation. She said that properties under $500/week (in a regional town) were receiving 30+ applications each and with only two of them in the office trying to process the applications, they weren't chasing people for overlooked information; you just missed out.
When we left Muswellbrook back in 2010, there was a housing crisis in the Hunter region driven by a mining boom. When our then landlords' son landed a job in the mines, but couldn't find a house, they terminated our lease so their son could move in. Fair enough - I'm not going to lie and say that I possibly wouldn't have done the same thing - but the impact of this decision on us was significant, rendering us homeless for three months.
Thinking back on this time, and comparing it to our current lived experience in Australia, it's interesting to see similarities between the growth in employment and the decline in housing availability and affordability (as a market driven by demand).
Much like the experience of poverty, as a society, we tend to look down on people experiencing homelessness because we feel safe in our ivory towers; we have jobs, we have savings, we're doing okay, it couldn't happen to us. So those that do experience homelessness must somehow be to blame for their circumstances; if they could just stop being lazy and get a job, clean themselves up and stop expecting handouts, they'd be fine, just like us.
Of course, the reality of homelessness doesn't fit that imagined narrative at all. The leading causes of homelessness are diverse, but today, having a job isn't protection enough from the threat if you are in the rental market.
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According to Mission Australia, there are 116,000 people currently experiencing homelessness on any given night, but 93 per cent of our homeless community are "invisible" to us - couch surfing, staying with friends or family, or living in temporary accommodation such as a caravan park.
The high cost and demand for rental properties is a significant factor of housing stress in Australia. When there are up to 10-year waiting periods for social housing (and 20,000 new social houses over five years hardly make a dent) and rent having increased by a national average of 9.3 per cent over the past year, while the hard-fought for wages increase is just 5.2 per cent, and real estate agents are inundated with rental applications, we have a serious problem. There aren't bootstraps strong enough to pull everyone up out of this hole.
With the banks tightening the criteria for home loan approvals, "just buying a house" isn't a feasible option for many of us stuck in the rental trap, even if we are "lucky" enough to be one of the 10,000 Australians approved to benefit from the Albanese government's Help to Buy Program. This program may give the appearance of supporting renters, but you still need to be eligible for a home loan and have saved 2 per cent of the purchase price - something increasingly difficult to do with skyrocketing cost-of-living expenses including a surge in rental costs.
Putting even more pressure on the rental market, short-stay rentals through third parties like AirBnB are offering landlords the opportunity to triple their income from their property. There's greater risk, as 100 per cent occupancy is unlikely, but the rewards are proving too attractive for landlords to pass up. Even in regional Australia there are up to 76 times as many AirBnB options as long-term rental properties available for lease.
So if you can't buy a house at soaring prices, if you aren't approved for a private rental house out of the 30-pluys applicants you're competing with, and if you can't access social housing, what do you do? The housing crisis response must be about helping people NOW, not just "planning ahead" for helping "some" people, "some day". With the price of petrol, even living in your car is out of the question!
Oh, and if you have a four-bedroom, two-bathroom property to rent, hit me up on Twitter!
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