Renters ‘skipping meals’ to afford a place to live


Researchers behind the biggest ever snapshot of Australian renters suspected they would see a big impact from COVID-19 in their survey, but they did not realise how just large it would be.Key points:Researchers surveyed 15,000 renters across Australia during the pandemicAbout half of all renters reported stress and anxietyA third said they had asked or would ask for a rent reduction or referral to get through the pandemic”The first thing that really struck me is the absolute scale of the effect of COVID and how it has affected people’s lives,” Emma Baker, professor of housing research at the University of Adelaide, said.”More than a third of people were doing things like not being able to pay their bills and skipping meals.”Lots of people were affected by things like not being able to pay their rent … but also [what came up was] this risk of eviction and the not knowing what was going to happen.”The Renting in the Time of COVID-19 report, by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) and funded by the Australian Research Council, surveyed 15,000 renting households in July and August.The report found renters were “on the brink of a financial precipice”, with many “currently buffered from the full economic effects of the pandemic by their savings, their superannuation, and rent deferment”.Just under 40 per cent of renters said they did not have enough money left over after paying rent to afford bills, clothing, transport and food during the pandemic.A third of respondents had asked for or were planning to request a rent reduction or deferral.Just over 5 per cent of respondents had received an eviction notice since the start of the pandemic.LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic.Stress, anxiety and evictionNearly half of all rental households reported increased stress and anxiety, during the COVID-19 pandemic.Renter Ari Yeung experienced plenty of both in Melbourne after her landlord emailed her an eviction notice in late June.”Extremely stressful [and] traumatising” was how the app designer described her experience with her landlord.Initially the landlord said she wanted to sell the house and Ms Yeung and her three housemates would have to leave. Ari Yeung was living in a share house when her landlord emailed her telling her she needed to move during the pandemic.(ABC News: Patrick Stone)”After receiving the email, I got on to Google and had a look on tenancy [on the Consumer Affairs Victoria website],” she said.”It was saying that evictions weren’t valid through a period of COVID and that landlords couldn’t send eviction notices.”Ms Yeung said she informed her landlord the notice was against the law but she was ignored.Soon after, she said, she had to call the police when the landlord came to the house for an unannounced inspection.She said the police told her it was a civil matter and they could not do anything.”I felt very powerless. I was very worried and anxious about what are my rights, and my rights as a tenant weren’t clear on the lease,” Ms Yeung said.With relations deteriorating with the landlord, Ms Yeung and her housemates decided to cut their losses and move out.She found a room in a new share house in one weekend at the end of July.”We were in the middle of a pandemic. I just felt like, being in a pressure cooker, basically. Having to find a place that was safe, that was suitable,” she said.Read more about coronavirus:Moving to afford the rentThe AHURI rent report found 60 per cent of rental households had experienced a change in their employment or income.For some renters, like film editor and director Kris Rowe in Sydney, it was severe. Film editor Kristine Rowe, who works from home, had to relocate from Sydney because JobKeeper was not enough to cover her rent.(Supplied)”I went seven months with only three days of work,” she said.She said her landlord gave her a rent reduction for 13 weeks but then expected full rent.”Since then I asked for a rent reduction, a deferral, or a reduction on the base rate to cater for market drop — they rejected everything,” Ms Rowe said.Ms Rowe said after her case was publicised in the media, her landlord offered a 15 per cent rent reduction.”That’s only $550 a month so it’s not sustainable and not enough to keep me in my home.”As a single mother who requires a separate workspace, Ms Rowe needs a home with at least two bedrooms and a study. She is leaving Sydney to get it.”I can’t afford to live in Sydney so am moving to the Blue Mountains to be near family as rent is half the price,” she said. Kristine Rowe says she and her daughter need a house with two bedrooms and a study.(Supplied)Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak’We don’t know what to do’One-third of respondents told researchers they were not sure how they would continue to pay rent without payments such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper.Richard, in Cairns, is one of those people who have been relying on JobSeeker to help pay some of the rent. He does not want his real name used because he is worried it could provoke his landlord.He and his partner and three kids moved to Queensland in January from Victoria for family reasons. Their income was meant to come from an indoor recreation centre he owns in Melbourne.”We went into … lockdown from March 23 and because the business is located in Melbourne it hasn’t reopened since,” he said.He said it took four months after applying for him to start receiving JobSeeker payments in July.”We were only living on my partner’s parenting payment for that period of time. And that equated to us only being able to afford around about $150 a week [for rent],” he said.The rent for their four-bedroom house is $695 per week.Recession v depressionAustralia has just recorded its worst economic contraction on record, so why are we still talking about a recession not a depression? Michael Janda explains.Read moreHe said after a JobSeeker back-payment and assistance from a Queensland COVID-19 rental grant, they had been able to get back to paying $500 per week.But his request for a rent reduction from the landlord has been rejected.”They don’t want anything else other than the full amount and that means for everything, right back to March,” he said.With Queensland having lifted its moratorium on evictions at the end of September, Richard fears what will happen.”We don’t know what to do,” he said.”We’re still dependent on a business which is in Melbourne, but we’re living in a state where the moratorium has come to an end.” Like many renters, Richard’s future is uncertain.The AHURI report concluded many renters had been kept in their homes thanks to temporary assistance and legislation such as eviction moratoriums.As those measures expire, for many renters the worst may still be to come.What you need to know about coronavirus:

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