Jessica Slater has been facing knockback after knockback as she tries to secure her own private rental property.
- Rental listings in Perth are down almost 50 per cent on last year
- Tenancy advocates say COVID-19 has exacerbated rental stress in WA
- People returning to Perth due to the pandemic have boosted demand
The 32-year-old proud Noongar-Yamatji woman has been couch surfing while she looks for her own home, but says time is running out.
“I’m going to be homeless,” Ms Slater said.
“All this coronavirus stuff, no one really wants anyone staying [on their couch].
“They’re concerned for their health and their families. I understand that, I definitely do.”
Ms Slater said the difficulty she faced entering the private rental market, or even share accommodation, was immense.
On top of competition for properties, she said she had faced discrimination based on her Aboriginal heritage.
“We only apply because we are going to pay our way,” she said.
Pandemic migrants among those seeking rentals
For prospective renters in Perth like Ms Slater, the market is only getting tougher.
New figures from the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia (REIWA) show the number of properties for lease shrank by 27 per cent in the June quarter.
Compared to this time last year, listings are down almost 50 per cent for the Perth metropolitan area.
REIWA president Damian Collins said the vacancy rate was dropping week by week.
“It’s certainly a landlord’s market and even though we haven’t seen any significant rent increases yet, I think over the next 12 months rents will finally start to rise again,” he said.
“It’s a combination of factors that’s caused the rental reduction and why we’ve got a bit of a shortage of rental properties.
Another of the big factors in reduced rental stock has been West Australians coming home during COVID-19, like Ms Slater who returned to Perth from Queensland.
“We’ve seen a lot of people return to Western Australia who otherwise might have stayed over east or overseas, and we haven’t seen the brain drain that we’re accustomed to with a lot of young people leaving the state,” Mr Collins said.
He said even if rental prices increased as expected in WA, in line with demand, the state would remain affordable compared to other Australian cities.
“I know for some people it will be challenging, but for most people it’s still going to be very affordable,” Mr Collins said.
Potential ‘tsunami’ awaits amid job losses
Shelter WA acting chief executive Lisa Kazalac said the continued drop in rental vacancy rates was concerning.
“This is a massive issue for people who are on low incomes who are in housing insecurity situations, who have rental stress situations, where they’re spending more than 30 per cent of their household incomes on rent,” she said.
COVID-19 had demonstrated it was not just people previously trapped in poverty who were vulnerable, Ms Kazalac added.
“All of us, through income loss, can be vulnerable to housing insecurity. That’s the reality,” she said.
“If we can’t keep people in their homes, then we’re really looking at a potential tsunami of more housing crisis.”
Calls go unanswered as distress grows
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the phones have been ringing non-stop at Tenancy WA.
Its executive manager Carmen Acosta said the community legal centre had been forced to hire another person to cope with the demand, with 90 per cent of calls received relating to financial stress from COVID-19.
Calls for help that would usually be returned in a week cannot be handled for two or three weeks because of the number of people in distress.
“JobKeeper and JobSeeker has certainly assisted so many individuals, and without that I don’t know where we would be right now.”
Ms Acosta said the end of the moratorium on eviction was the biggest concern for tenants. The moratorium is due to end on September 29, when WA’s state of emergency declaration is currently set to be lifted.
The State Government has said it would continue to monitor the policy and may consider revising the moratorium end date.
In a further bid to assist households under rental stress from COVID-19, the State Government has offered $30 million worth of grants of up to $2,000 to cover four weeks’ rent.
Mr Collins said it was likely some rental stock would be freed up in the next 12 to 18 months as people took up homebuilding incentives from the state and federal governments, and increased rents would mean more investors wanting to get involved.
“It’ll help with the supply and provide more rental accommodation for people,” he said.