Roofs For Ransom – COVID19 Rental Survey Preliminary Report

Background

‘COVID-19 may end up being this generation’s Great Depression. The determinants of health, and how they are distributed, should be our guiding measure of a successful Australia as we rebuild from COVID-19’

– Friel & Demaio, 2020

Since COVID-19 began to impact Australia in mid-March 2020, over 950,000 more people in Australia have continued to face unemployment​,​ underemployment, and the challenges to rebuilding financial security post-COVID19.

Renters make up 30% of Australia’s population, yet constitute the lower 40% of incomes nationally​3.​ The COVID19 crisis has disproportionately affected low income households and exacerbated pre-existing insecurity including Australia’s continued housing crisis.

The economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis will continue for decades to come, yet economic support measures are being wound back, including rental moratoriums, set to coincide with the cuts to government COVID income supplement payments.

End of Eviction Moratorium

The special measures introduced by the Victorian and Federal Governments in response to the pandemic will soon come to an end. In Victoria this will mean the reintroduction of rent increases and the end of a moratorium on evictions and the introduction of changed and new grounds for the issuing of Notices to Vacate. The ability to defer rent will end and those deferred rents will come due.

At the same time, JobSeeker and JobKeeper entitlements will end. With unemployment at 6.4% and underemployment at 8.5%​4,​ this will mean the cutting of basic income to people already in rental stress. These cuts will compound existing high levels of rental debt. Coupled with the end of the eviction moratorium, possession orders will likely exceed 2018-19 levels, as a larger number of more precarious renters face a greater likelihood of rental arrears and consequent eviction.


Executive Summary

Recommendations

  • Urgent requirement for Federal and State governments to implement measures to waive rental debts accrued over the COVID19 pandemic
  • The Victorian Government to legislate a waiver for rental debt including arrears and deferred rental payments accrued from March 2020 – April 2021 for all Victorians in rental stress
  • For rental debt, arrears and deferred rental payments to be understood by agents within responsible and ethical debt collection practises
  • Victorian Government to provide accessible information to renters in hardship that they may be judgment proof from rental debts
  • Possession Orders and Evictions must be banned for renters in financial hardship including those served through Notice to Vacate for any grounds including failure to comply with obligations such as rent5​
  • Victorian Government must extend until September 2021:
    • Residential Tenancies Dispute Settlement rent reduction scheme
    • the ban on rental increases for all Victorian residential tenancies
  • Increase the rate of JobSeeker payment to COVID19 Support payment levels, in order to lift welfare support payments to above the Henderson poverty line

Key findings

Renters in private tenancies are being forced to choose between the cost of shelter and other needs such as food and healthcare including medication.

A significant proportion of renters have ‘self evicted’ as a result of rental stress brought about by the impacts of COVID19

Renters have compounded vulnerabilities and fewer safety nets placing them at higher risk of homelesness.

The survey shows that:

  • 48% of respondents were in debt of some kind, not including HECS debt.
  • 41.6% or 55 respondents answered yes to rent related stress affecting their wellbeing, out of these respondents, a further 7.58% specifically named mental health, depression, anxiety or stress.
  • 26% of respondents have had to move out due to rental stress due to COVID19
  • 34% of respondents stated that they struggled to buy food.
  • 37% answered that they struggled to pay for healthcare costs including medication

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