Community groups urge WA government to unlock the state’s housing potential
10 February 2021 at 5:51 pm
A new campaign is calling for a $4 billion package to create 18,000 new social and affordable rental homes in Western Australia
For single mother-of-three Renee Taylor, the onset of the pandemic caused her to experience first-hand how these vulnerabilities can put people on the brink of homelessness.
She was forced to leave her rental of almost four years after her landlord – fearing the impact of COVID – decided to sell the property.
While Taylor thought it would be fairly easy to find somewhere else to live, the reality was anything but.
She found herself attending inspections with 30 to 40 people at each property and spent months trying to successfully apply for a place.
She even considered putting everything in storage and resorting to couch surfing.
Taylor told Pro Bono News the whole process took a huge emotional toll on her and her family.
“It was horrible. It made me feel really unstable, insecure, full of fear, and created a lot of anxiety and stress,” Taylor said.
“I had no idea where we were going to go, or if we were ever going to get a house.”
It is the plight of people like Taylor that has prompted the Western Australian community sector – led by Shelter WA – to launch the Unlock Housing campaign.
Advocates say that given the shortfall of 39,200 social and 19,300 affordable homes across the state, the WA government’s plan to build 260 new social houses a year is not enough to meet demand.
They have proposed a $4 billion package to create 18,000 new social and affordable rental homes over the next four years, which they estimate will lift more than 36,000 people out of acute housing stress and homelessness.
Shelter WA CEO Michelle Mackenzie said now was the time to address the housing crisis.
“A strong and robust social and affordable housing system is critical if we are to end homelessness, [and] ensure everybody has a place to call home,” Mackenzie said.
“Investment in housing will unlock opportunity providing everybody with the foundation for a good life. It also reduces the cost of homelessness on our community.”
Housing and homelessness concerns in WA were thrust into the limelight last month as the state government worked to find accommodation for homeless people living in makeshift “tent cities” across the state.
And when parts of WA went into a strict five-day lockdown earlier this month after a Perth security guard tested positive for coronavirus, homelessness groups struggled to cope with the surge in demand from rough sleepers needing a safe place to sleep.
Community groups say the end of the moratorium on evictions and rent increases at the start of April will only increase housing stress and homelessness levels.
The Unlock Housing package aims to address the crisis by offering immediate safe and secure interim accommodation solutions for 620 people and families sleeping rough. This will serve as a pathway to permanent housing.
Other proposals include a $58 million plan to install energy efficiency and household solar in 8,300 community housing properties, establishing a Community Housing Growth Strategy, and reforming the Residential Tenancies Act to make renting more long-term and secure.
Mackenzie said this package had been created in partnership with the sector and people with lived experience of homelessness.
She said it was needed to set the state up for a bright housing future.
“As well as providing a diverse range of housing options and support services for those in need, this housing package will create around 32,000 jobs and stimulate the economy,” she said.
“Most importantly, it will improve the health, wellbeing and housing security of thousands of West Australians in housing stress.”
For Taylor, she was eventually able to find a rental last September – but is now paying $60 extra a week.
She fears the end of the moratorium will result in her rent increasing even more.
“And I have a huge concern for other people as well, especially single-parent families, families that aren’t working or those struggling on benefits,” she said.
“They’re struggling now with the cost of rent. So any further rent increase is going to cause more homelessness.”
She hopes that policymakers will consider the Unlock Housing package and take action to ensure vulnerable people don’t end up homeless.
“If you can’t afford to pay your rent and there’s no properties available, everyday people can end up living in a car with nowhere to live,” she said.
“Everybody has the right to have a house and somewhere to live in a safe place to sleep at night. So hopefully the message will get out there a bit more.”