South West rental crisis continues

REIWA councillor Joe White predicts the housing shortage will continue until March 2021 when the state government's moratorium on tenancy evictions ends.
REIWA councillor Joe White predicts the housing shortage will continue until March 2021 when the state government's moratorium on tenancy evictions ends.

The region's growing rental and accommodation crisis will continue into next year and relief may not be seen until March according to real estate experts.

But while many people seeking to secure a roof over their heads have placed the blame on rising holiday home approvals, Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA) councillor Joe White said there were a number of contributing factors.

"Is there a shortage? Absolutely there is," Mr White said.

"But holiday homes and Airbnbs are not the only issue here.

"What we're seeing currently is the impact of 'flying home for safety', that is there are a large number of people in the region who have a property here and perhaps a property in Perth or interstate.

"Those people rushed here under the initial COVID-19 threat and they haven't left.

"There was a very fast movement of people into the area, and really you only need a 2 to 5 per cent influx in population overnight to create problems."

But with tenants being forced to find housing with friends and in caravans and temporary accommodation, many are looking to the empty holiday homes in the popular tourist towns.

Shire of Augusta Margaret River Director Sustainable Development and Infrastructure, Nick Logan said to date 48 holiday home approvals have been issued in 2020, an increase on last year's total of 27.

"The Shire is aware that there has recently been increased activity in the local real estate market and that some home owners may wish to rent their newly acquired homes for short stay purposes," he said.

"Owners are reminded that homes cannot be rented out for short term purposes unless a valid approval is in place.

"Approvals will only be granted in line with the Shire's policy which is aimed at directing holiday homes away from predominantly residential areas in the interests of amenity and housing affordability."

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Mr White said the South West would continue to feel the impacts of the housing shortage until after the State government's moratorium on tenancy evictions and lease expires ends in March 2021.

"We are in a very, very tough year and there is still another hard road ahead for tenants, I'm afraid," he said.

"Every little variable is working against them - all the blocks in the area have been sold but it will take 12 months or so for those homes to be built and occupied.

"For vacancies to come up, there needs to be people moving in, moving out, all the time. At the moment there is very little movement in that regard.

"I've never known the market to look this good but if you scratch the surface, there are a lot of issues happening that take the shine off it."

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Just Home chairperson Naomi Godden said the organisation was very concerned about the lack of rental properties in the region.

"We are experiencing increased requests of support from community members to navigate confusion about their leases and threats of eviction," she said.

"We advise that the WA State Government has extended its moratorium on evictions until March 28, 2021.

"Our understanding is that tenants cannot be asked to leave a tenancy, even if their lease has expired.

"If a property is being sold, the owner needs to apply for an exemption to break/discontinue the lease.

"Landlords should be aware of these laws, and tenants should be aware of their rights, and are encouraged to visit the Commerce WA website and seek support if actions are undermining the COVID-19 tenant laws."

Just Home was recently awarded a grant of $180,000 from The Ian Potter Foundation for its work to address homelessness in the region.

The group said the funding would be used over the next three years to implement a Housing Information and Referral Service.

The funds will also be used to engage with relevant South West agencies to support Augusta Margaret River community members, implement a life skills training program, and develop strategic partnerships to facilitate the development of social housing in the region.

"This funding enables us to keep our doors open and work with our community, partners and stakeholders to address and prevent homelessness," said Ms Godden.