Housing crisis described as a 'disaster'

Dunsborough resident Richard Wain with Vasse MLA Libby Mettam on a mission to address the affordable housing crisis facing many residents and families in the region.
Dunsborough resident Richard Wain with Vasse MLA Libby Mettam on a mission to address the affordable housing crisis facing many residents and families in the region.

A Busselton mum is is facing the devastating possibility that she could become homeless in a matter of weeks as she, like many others, is unable to secure affordable housing in the region.

Resident Lisa Griffin was told by her landlord that the house she called home for the past three years was going on the market.

While they offered her first dibs, Ms Griffin said she wasn't in a position to purchase a home.

Two weeks later a for sale sign went up and the house was sold the same day.

"The new owners needed finance approved which gave me an extra couple of weeks and that is it," she said.

"There is nowhere, I have put my name down at all the real estate agents and have put it out there on Facebook and to all my friends.

"There is just nothing and whatever is available is ridiculously unaffordable."

Rents in Busselton are being advertised around $500 a week, which is unaffordable for a single income family like hers.

"I really don't know what to do. What happens at the end of the day when I don't have somewhere to live and I am asked to move out?

"What is the process? I do not want to be homeless. What happens?"

While she has stable employment, Ms Griffin said it was hard because she has two children, a 13 year old dog and two pet rabbits.

"I have rung all the caravan parks and they are all full. The only other option I can think of is to relocate but to where?" she said.

"The only plan I can come up with is to stick my stuff in storage, which will cost money, and maybe live with my parents for a while [in Perth].

"That would mean my daughter would have to change schools, she really loves Geographe Primary School.

"I would even have to change work, which means I would be facing unemployment, it is really crap.

"I cannot believe I am 46 years old and I am facing homelessness.

"I have never been in this position.

"It is not like I do not have a job or I cannot pay rent, I can, but I just have nowhere to go now.

"I do not see any immediate solutions at all, it will have to be a legislative change, like what the government did before, saying you cannot evict people onto the streets.

"Do I break the law and go to court or be homeless?"

Estimated 150 families in Augusta Margaret River on brink of homelessness

Last week, Just Homes Margaret River released a report "I wouldn't wish this on anyone": The Augusta Margaret River Housing Crisis, calling the situation a disaster.

The report estimated that 150 families (400 people) in the AMR Shire are on the brink of homelessness.

When the WA Government's moratorium on tenancy agreements ends on March, 28, Just Homes said the impact on families and the local economy would be profound.

"Many local workers and families in AMR are facing eviction due to the end of their lease or sale of their rental, and/or rent increases, and they are struggling to find a rental property," the report stated.

"Homelessness and housing stress have worsened in AMR and urgent action is required."

The community based organisation have called for nine actions including extending the moratorium for another 12 months.

Premier Mark McGowan said the housing crisis had come about because of COVID-19 and they had put the moratorium in place for 12 months protect people as best they could.

"We could not keep it in place forever," he said.

"We now have lots of properties occupied and when the moratorium ends we expect more properties will come onto the market.

"That will ensure a new equilibrium is reached which may well mean some rent increases but with more houses coming onto the market, we expect more people will be able to get rentals.

"Hopefully that will mean a downward trend in rents into the future.

"You cannot leave the moratorium in place forever and we have provided grants to landlords in order to support existing tenants.

"We now have the strongest construction housing market which will assist this issue over coming months."

No crisis accommodation in the region

Accordwest senior case manager George Emile said there was no crisis accommodation for people facing homelessness south of Bunbury.

"It is quite unusual and I do not know why it is like that," he said.

"A lot of it is dependent on location, like in Collie but not here in Bunbury or further south.

"It is difficult, the moratorium will end on March 28 and how that affects everything else we are not sure."

Mr Emile said there would be no movement on the houses they did have which meant they would not have houses for people who cannot find a rental.

"For us the caseload for our workers is quite high, at the moment we are supporting a lot of people unaccommodated making sure they can get on the general wait list for the Department of Housing," he said.

"We also make sure they are eligible to apply for bond and support them looking for rental properties with the hope that they are successful.

"The old adage is more housing but that is difficult in terms of the type of housing, location, who will pay for the houses, which organisaiton would run the houses."

Social housing waiting maintenance

The Department of Communities executive director service delivery Lindsay Hale said at February 28, 2021, the Busselton zone, which also covered Margaret River, had eight applications on the priority wait list which mention 'homelessness' as the reason for priority listing.

"As at February 28, 2021, there were 17 vacant properties in the Busselton zone which will return to stock once maintenance has been completed," he said.

"Properties may be vacant for a number of reasons including routine maintenance prior to reletting, or they may be awaiting sale or repurposing.

"The Department is committed to returning vacated properties for the purpose of reletting as soon as possible.

"The State Government's $319 million Social Housing Economic Recovery Package (SHERP) announced in June 2020 is the largest housing maintenance and refurbishment program in Western Australia's history."

The program will see 1,500 public and community houses, supported accommodation facilities such as family and domestic violence refuges, and residential group homes refurbished.

Mr Hale said SHERP also included a rolling maintenance program targeting 3,800 regional government-owned properties.

"It will also see the delivery of around 250 new homes to help the most vulnerable people in our community," he said.

The Mail has been reporting on the housing crisis since July last year, when a Dunsborough family could not find a rental property leaving them with the possibility they would need to relocate.

Adding pressure to the housing crisis is the number of properties being used as holiday homes in the region.

At the end of February there were 964 holiday homes registered with the City of Busselton, compared to 832 at the same time last year.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the The McGowan Labor Government sold off more than 1,000 social housing properties since it came to power.

"This, together with their failure to respond in implementing the recommendations of the 2019 short stay accommodation inquiry, has only exacerbated the housing crisis we are currently experiencing," she said.

"In contrast, the WA liberals policy is to provide 4,600 social housing properties across the state as well as 500 beds for the homeless.

"We also have a policy to provide stamp duty rebates for seniors who want to downsize, that will help open up more family housing opportunities in the local market.

"The long term rental shortage is not only an issue affecting the fabric of our community, given there is an obvious interest in having local families continue to live locally, but is also a huge issue for our small businesses that are struggling to attract staff because of the lack of affordable housing in the area.

"The Local and State Governments need to urgently work together to come up with both a short-term and longer-term response to this growing issue, especially as our population continues to grow.

"Part of this includes undertaking an urgent survey or register on the size of the problem and the number of families affected by this challenge when the moratorium on rents finishes at the end of the month.

"As I understand it, there is no one agency that is actively trying to do this and there needs to be urgent collaboration to ensure these families are not left to fall through the cracks or forced to leave town due to a lack of available options.

"The cash incentives the State Government is offering landlords to prolong rental agreements after this period is a bandaid solution and unlikely to be enough, particularly in the South West where rental prices are expected to soar."

Development and building applications fast tracked

City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley said they had been working hard over the past 10 months to fast track development and building applications, under the direction of the State Government.

"We have in fact processed record numbers of applications which is a credit to our officers," he said.

"We have been vocal in encouraging people to open up spare rooms for boarders - particularly seasonal workers who have been hit particularly hard by the shortage of housing.

"We have also extended the length of stay for low cost medium term rentals in caravan parks with capacity.

Mr Henley said they were seeking to address the situation with the government and related agencies.

"It is very concerning and while we can appeal to landlords to maintain a sense of fairness and compassion, we really have no control over private and commercial rental agreements," he said.

"We will continue to support local charity organisations and Lobby the Western Australian Government for additional support for the homeless and the vulnerable - particularly our youth."

Dunsborough resident Richard Wain addressed council last week to highlight the extent of the problem after noticing the number of people affected by the housing crisis who were searching for an affordable rental property.

"It appears that there are in fact dozens of families with jobs and children who face this predicament and this might be a larger issue than anyone envisaged," he said.

Mr Wain is calling on the city to undertake a survey or register to understand the extent of the problem in the Busselton region.

"Given that we have no dedicated group looking at this major social issue in the area there appears to be a need to try and establish some definitive figures," he said.

"It might be worth a discussion that all future housing estates have a percentage, preferably within a set area that is limited to owner occupied and or long term rental only.

"This could be achieved by applying a restrictive covenant over the part of the estate.

"It would be beneficial to purchases as there would be areas were they would know that disruptive holiday home activity would not occur."

This story Housing crisis described as a 'disaster' first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.