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The private rental sector has grown significantly and is now home to more than 1.8 million Australian households. This growth has been linked to higher demand from households who are taking longer to save for a house deposit, as well as more strictly rationed public housing. Despite this growth, the tenure remains insecure: weak regulation and investors’ pursuit of capital gains has led to more rapid turnover of properties, increasing problems of forced mobility for tenants.
The project sought to understand the vulnerabilities of tenants in this context, discerning the effects of critical life events and housing shocks. It involved interviewing 76 low to moderate-income tenants living in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth about their housing experiences, as well as interviewing practitioners to identify emerging types of support for tenants.
Two key groups of low to moderate-income tenants emerged: those who have experienced multiple types of adverse life events for whom there can be extreme difficulties in attaining leases and maintaining cash flow; and a new or previously unidentified group who require assistance to manage a key event or transition (e.g. recently arrived migrants).
A negative relationship exists between the number of critical life events experienced by low to moderate-income tenants, and the resources they have at hand to manage them. As the number of critical life events experienced rises, larger proportions of tenants require drastic action to raise emergency funds. They are more likely to require assistance from friends or family, less likely to have savings of any kind, and more likely to not be able to pay their rental costs on time. In Australia, Commonwealth funded Rental Assistance (RA) is a key support for private renter households in need. However, this study suggested RA is inadequate when critical life events occur or insurances are exhausted.
Governments might, through appropriate local services like medical, legal or migrant support centres, improve knowledge about the rental market, provide bond assistance or payments to meet temporary cash flow difficulties, and help broker households into private rental housing. They might also better regulate the sector to address poor housing standards and predatory landlords.