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The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed underlying vulnerabilities in Australia’s housing system. Overcrowding, share accommodation, and precarious tenures are rising in the major cities and some regional areas where permanent rental supply has been drained by short-term tourism platforms. With inadequate housing increasing the risk of disease transmission and other health impacts under the pandemic, it is critical to better understand these informal and largely unregulated sectors of the housing system.

This is the final report of an AHURI Scoping Project which examines these issues, focussing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the linked housing forms of marginal, informal and short-term rental (STR) accommodation. The aims of the Scoping Project were: to establish any health and housing risks of marginal and informal housing revealed or exacerbated during COVID-19; investigate any potential changes to the demand and supply of informal housing due to the pandemic; determine the change to demand and supply of informal short-term tourism rentals during COVID-19 and, finally, the related positive or negative affect on housing supply of these changes.

Through interview data, it was revealed that government and non-government action during the COVID-19 pandemic has improved the housing circumstances of people living in marginal accommodation. In particular, increased income support during the pandemic period, as well as some government programs targeting people experiencing homelessness, have reportedly enabled some lower income groups to improve their housing circumstances, exiting marginal or informal accommodation.

Key points:

  • Overcrowded, marginal housing and informal housing tenures may increase health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, because of the difficulties of physical distancing and potential for the virus to spread.
  • People living in these informal tenures may face additional risks of contracting the virus because of the inability to social distance. They experience additional precarity because negotiated rental arrangements leave people more vulnerable to eviction and displacement, despite wider government efforts to protect tenants in the private rental market.
  • There is evidence of a link between falling demand for Airbnb style short-term rental accommodation during the pandemic, and an increase in long-term private rental housing availability in case study housing markets of Sydney and Hobart. This suggests that the loss of residential units to Airbnb-style platforms affected private rental housing supply and affordability pre-pandemic.
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AHURI Final Report 348