Impact of COVID-19 on Renters

Friday, 23 October 2020

Mij Gibson Oct 20, 2020

A recent research by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute says that a third of respondents had been forced to tap into their savings with about one in eight tapping into their superannuation, just to afford a roof over their heads.

The survey of 15,000 tenants carried out at the height of the pandemic has exposed a reliance on temporary government incentives like JobKeeper and the topped-up JobSeeker to make ends meet says in a recent article. Some have even reported skipping meals, bringing in an extra housemate or moving out altogether, with almost half suffering stress and anxiety due to COVID-19.

Lead researcher Prof Emma Baker of the University of Adelaide said that Victorians had endured the biggest mental toll due to the state’s extended lockdowns.

Approximately two-thirds reported experiencing negative changes to their employment or income, including reduced hours, retrenchment and temporary job loss.

This highlights a need for government to consider extending welfare payments and support well into 2021, especially with the looming cuts to government support and renter’s digging into their superannuation and using up their savings.

Prof Baker said the survey revealed JobKeeper had helped struggling renters to “keep their head above water”, while the COVID-19 supplement boosting JobSeeker had increased quality of life by, for example, allowing people to “afford fruit and vegetables for the first time”. But she suspects that the story of these renters will get much worse when the government assistance disappears and says that it will be crucial that the next round of government assistance needed to be targeted towards those in the greatest need like families and households earning less than $90,000 per year.

59% of respondents who had requested discounts or deferrals said they were approved, while 36% per cent were denied or just ignored. Those who never asked said they anticipated refusal, were too embarrassed to ask, or concerned about keeping their rental record unblemished.

Prof Baker says that the pandemic had exposed the importance of transforming the rental sector from an avenue for “mum and dad investors to make money” into a provider of “healthy housing” for the one-third of Aussies who were now tenants.

Prof Baker has called for a co-ordinated national framework for tenant-landlord negotiations on rent reductions.

The report declared “delivering more secure and affordable housing” was fundamental to the nation’s post-COVID economic recovery.

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