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Call to keep welfare stimulus to tackle rental affordability

Local

Permanently doubling Centrelink payments in the wake of COVID-19 will “dramatically” increase the number of private rentals that are affordable to South Australians on low incomes, but there is a “cruel twist”, says Anglicare SA.

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According to this year’s Anglicare rental affordability snapshot, released today, 25 per cent of private rentals in South Australia, or 602 properties, would be affordable and suitable for people on JobSeeker, youth allowance and parenting payments if the Federal Government’s coronavirus stimulus was made permanent.

Without the stimulus, which temporarily doubled the fortnightly JobSeeker payment to $1115.70 up from $550, only 3.5 per cent of South Australian private rentals, or 82 properties, are affordable for households on income support.

Anglicare defined an “affordable property” as one that costs less than 30 per cent of a household’s income, with “suitable properties” defined as those that include enough bedrooms for the number of adults and children living at the dwelling.

The snapshot, which analysed 2369 South Australian private rentals advertised on realestate.com.au on March 21, shows that even prior to the coronavirus wrecking havoc with the state and nation’s economy, finding affordable housing on a minimum wage was an almost impossible task.

The Federal Government in March announced that it would temporarily double the JobSeeker payment, previously called Newstart, for six months in a bid to soften the blow that the coronavirus is having on the economy.

But welfare groups have since called on the Federal Government to make the increase permanent as Australia’s unemployment rate looks set to skyrocket and a coronavirus-prompted recession looms.

“Our data shows, through this temporary payment, on the day of the snapshot, the availability of affordable rental homes would dramatically increase from 3.5 per cent to 25 per cent for some households,” Anglicare SA CEO Peter Sandeman said.

“For South Australians doing it tough, this additional payment is more than a supplement, it gives them the opportunity to put a roof over their heads.

“It’s particularly crucial for families. This additional payment gives them a vital leg-up to create a stable environment for their children to give them a home.”

While the Federal Government increased JobSeeker, youth allowance and parenting payments, the disability support payment and the aged pension missed out.

According to Anglicare, almost 750,000 Australians receive the disability support pension and 660,000 people on the aged pension do not own their own home.

Sandeman said the lack of consistency across the welfare payments created a “cruel twist” as the only household type that “significantly” benefited from the COVID-19 stimulus was those where two parents are both receiving the JobSeeker payment.

“The effect has been to actually advantage people on JobSeeker more than people on the age pension and on DSP (disability support payment),” he said.

“They’re still highly disadvantaged in terms of accessing rental properties and finding safe, secure housing.

“It (the COVID-19 stimulus) needs to be reworked, quite frankly, to ensure all people can access decent and affordable housing.”

Elizabeth Grove resident, retail manager and JobSeeker recipient Angela McArdle said she found it “impossible” to find a private rental property last year after she was faced with bankruptcy and forced to move out of her house.

“I was living in extreme fear of homelessness with grave concerns about where I was going to go, what I was going to do, how I was going to be able to afford anything,” she said.

“I was getting sick and looking at the affordability it was either, if I stayed where I was I was going to be kicked out (but) trying to find somewhere that I could afford was all beyond my means.

“I was just totally stuck.”

McArdle and her husband eventually secured housing through Anglicare Community Housing about six months ago.

“What I have you can’t put a monetary value on because I know that no matter how sick I get I’m safe and I can afford where I’m living and it’s an appropriate place.”

She said the increased JobSeeker payment would make her life “very different”.

“It scares me because I know it’s going to stop,” she said.

“We’re more inclined to be more careful with having that money and not getting too used to it.

“It feels odd to be given so much extra and there’s a part of me that says I could have a whole new this or that, but really the best bet will be to make sure that things are paid up well in advance because when the money dries up you have to go back to extremely frugal living.”

Sandeman said a permanent increase to income support and building more social and affordable housing would address social issues and boost the state’s economy.

“The State Government has done a great job in accommodating over 300 South Australians experiencing homelessness in hotels and motels during the COVID 19 crisis, but, as the Premier has said, we don’t want these people to fall back into homelessness,” he said.

“The COVID-19 crisis has been devastating but now, more than ever, we must do all that we can to assist vulnerable South Australians.”

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