Rooming House Tenants Pay High Price for Living in Poverty
12 October 2016 at 1:57 pm
A six-month snapshot of Melbourne rooming houses has revealed a significant ongoing problem of illegal properties, exorbitant rents and poor conditions in accommodation run by both for-profit and not-for-profit organisations.
The data, collected by the Tenants Union of Victoria (TUV), collated information about 108 rooming houses and found that only two rooming houses offered rent that was affordable to someone on a low income and nearly half were unregistered.
The report revealed rooming house tenants were paying rents far in excess of affordable rates, of up to $235 per week.
The Council to Homeless Persons (CHP) said the severe shortage of social housing suited to low-income single people was contributing to ongoing demand for expensive rooming houses.
“Long waiting lists for public housing for singles are pushing vulnerable people into rooming houses or onto the streets,” CEO of Council to Homeless Persons Jenny Smith said.
“The data shows the median rent for a room was $195 per week. For a single person on Newstart that’s two-thirds of their income, leaving only $19 a day for all other expenses including food, transport, clothing and medical costs.”
CEO of TUV Mark O’Brien said operating an illegal rooming house was a license to print money.
Of the 108 rooming houses visited by outreach workers over the six-month period the TUV report showed 71 were registered, 32 were unregistered (45 per cent) and five were shut down. The data does not name the properties.
“Vulnerable residents with no other option are paying up to 83 per cent of their income on rent for a single room across Melbourne’s suburbs,” O’Brien said.
“A fear of retaliation is a major barrier to reporting issues, and unfortunately this is a well-founded fear as residents seen as a problem can be subject to intimidation and eviction.
“It is not only unregistered rooming houses where we are seeing problems. Over half of the registered rooming houses visited by our team presented substantial issues of repairs and maintenance, cleaning, and fire and electrical safety.”
O’Brien said as a result there was an underclass of people paying exorbitant figures for living conditions that fell well below community expectations, simply because they had no other choice.
“Surprisingly rents across both community and privately run rooming houses were similarly sky high. We expect residents in rooming houses run by not-for-profit organisations to be affordable, unfortunately, this was not always the case.” O’Brien said.
“This is simply not a sustainable housing model.
“The data smashes the perception that rooming houses are a low-cost housing option, with only two of the surveyed rooming houses offering rent that would be affordable to someone on a low income.”
TUV and CHP said the simplest way to stamp out illegal rooming houses was for the government to boost the supply of one-bedroom affordable housing for single people, where the demand was greatest.
A Victorian Government report on social housing showed that there were 20,000 households waiting for one-bedroom homes, in a public housing system that has just 18,000 one-bedroom units.
“We need to tackle the housing crisis to solve homelessness, and that will need both federal and state governments to put their shoulder to the wheel,” Smith said
CHP said that increased supply could be achieved through a combination of direct purchase of properties, partnerships with community housing organisations and legislation that requires new building developments to include 10 per cent dedicated social housing (a process called inclusionary zoning).
Despite the rent for some rooming houses being almost equivalent to a one-bedroom flat, rooming house residents find it impossible to break into the private rental market due to the fierce rental competition and discrimination from real estate agents.
Smith said homelessness services were being swamped by single people trying to avoid the streets, but that with 32,000 people waiting for public housing, agencies often have no choice but to send people to registered rooming houses.
“Every day agencies are faced with the dilemma of putting someone who’s homeless into a rooming house that is more than they can afford to pay, or turning them away altogether,” she said.
Infrastructure Victoria’s recent 30-year draft strategy recommended an additional 30,000 affordable dwellings be created for low-income Victorians, a proposal which CHP said would tackle homelessness head-on.