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18 August 2022
Searching for keys to the rental housing crisis
Words Holly Reed and Naomi Singlehurst
Before Louise* was asked to vacate the house she was renting, she had no idea of the magnitude of the current rental housing crisis. As Homelessness Week (1-7 August 2022) draws to a close, Louise shares her story, and Brendan Fitzhenry – Salvation Army Senior National Homelessness Specialist – shines a light on the rental housing crisis in Australia.
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,” she explains. “I felt extremely vulnerable and distressed at the fact that I couldn’t provide a home for my children.”
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. “It is driving increasing numbers of individuals and families – even those with reasonable incomes – into homelessness.”
Brendan explains that 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 family and domestic 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.
Brendan says: “There has been historic under-investment by the government in social housing over the past few decades … [and] a sharp rise in recent years of those in housing stress, so all of that means a dire situation.”
In Louise’s case, a call to the Salvos provided the family with the option of transitional accommodation.
They stored their belongings and moved into a transitional house late last year, just in time for Christmas. The Salvos 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.”
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 six-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.”
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.
“Secure housing for a family like Louise’s is essential. It flows on into being able to find work, connect with a community, stability of children’s schooling and much more.”
* Name changed to protect family privacy.
Homelessness services: salvationarmy.org.au/need-help/ homelessness-support-services
Family and domestic violence services: salvationarmy.org.au/need-help/ family-and-domestic-violence