Double Crisis: Regional Housing Shortage In Australia Worsens Poor Mental Health | Lodging

The housing crisis and the mental health crisis are converging in the Australian region as rental vacancy rates in some areas fall below 1% with city dwellers on the move, rentals converted to Airbnbs or landlords taking advantage of high real estate prices.

Regional cities have seen a significant reduction in available properties and rental affordability, especially since the start of the pandemic.

While Sydney CBD currently has a vacancy rate above 7% and Melbourne CBD above 5%, vacancy rates across regional Australia, including regional Queensland, the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, and southwestern Washington, are less than 1%, SQM Research has shown.

Louis Christopher, managing director of SQM, said this has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in rental and housing prices over the past 12 months with areas such as the North Coast of New South Wales, with a combined increase in rental prices of 18.6%.

“It’s a huge rent increase. In our series we have never seen such acceleration in rents in regional Australia, ”said Christopher.

Ellen Jones, a lawyer in the city of Orange, NSW, said like all regional centers, her hometown has a divide between rich and poor, but demand for housing for sales and rentals had greatly increased the gap.

“It used to be a rural backwater that people were eager to get out of,” she said.

“Now this is the trendy place, with visitors to Sydney on two degree days when it snows, saying ‘isn’t it nice and wintry’ which is great for business and we have a younger population coming in. “

Jones’ legal practice primarily deals with transfer of property and family and housing law in these two areas.

Four years ago, customers bought homes for $ 450,000 that now sell for $ 1.1 million and demand is causing a boom in renovations. Low income housing options that were released for $ 150,000 are now $ 450,000, a price low income people or the unemployed cannot afford.

At the same time, she deals with the separation of couples who are forced to stay under the same roof with children because one of the partners cannot obtain rental accommodation. Jones described the immediate separation phase as the most dangerous time for women and “really bad for the kids.”

“If something doesn’t change, we’re going to see single mothers sleeping under bridges. I’ve seen people with kids and even more so if they have pets who can’t get rental housing, ”Jones said.

“If the market is tight, landlords want to offer properties to singles or professional couples and people pay more than market rents.”

The NSW government this week announced $ 500 million for 75 additional shelters for women and children, doubling the number of shelters, as part of a Covid economic recovery strategy.

New South Wales Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor said 40% of those with access to specialized services for the homeless had experienced domestic violence.

The Queensland Alliance for Mental Health, the state’s top body for community mental health, said the situation “is pushing people with mental distress into homelessness.”

QAMH also called for a boost for social housing with integrated mental health support from the Queensland government.

The alliance gives Mackay, Townsville and Rockhampton just three examples of where the recent infusion of public funds into public housing is woefully insufficient to meet the needs of the community.

Karen Bonham, community development coordinator at Mackay’s community nonprofit organization, Madec, said “Anyone who is underprivileged, even people on low incomes, just don’t stand a chance.”

“There is a visible increase in the number of people who have to find alternative sleeping solutions, in cars in parking lots, and that includes young families with children, in local parks, behind our town hall, wherever it is. vacant, out of weather, ”Bonham said.

In Mackay, recent state funding will provide 10 homes in the area. However, nearly 500 people are on the waiting list – many of whom have been on the list for more than three years, a client for more than seven years, according to Bonham.

The situation forced Madec to rent private properties at social housing rates and invest her own limited funds to embark on housing construction.

Bonham said the lack of housing support creates a perpetual cycle of poor mental health as there is a “general bottleneck where there is no exit strategy from crisis housing services to options. more independent accommodation “.

She said this translates into even worse mental health outcomes, because “for someone with episodic mental health issues, the more negative they have in accessing housing, the more they feel. distress and more distress is insurmountable ”.

Jeremy Audas, North Queensland executive director for the Richmond Fellowship Queensland, a charity that provides community and clinical mental health services, also says the problem is twofold.

“First, people with mental health problems find it difficult to find and keep housing,” Audas said.

“On the other hand, people who do not have a mental illness but who are homeless may have mental illness triggered by the stress of being homeless.”

Audas said people with co-morbidities such as alcohol or other drug addictions are particularly at risk, but other indicators also exacerbate housing difficulties.

“Native people struggle to find suitable housing because of systemic racism, as well as young people because they don’t have a rental history,” Audas said.

He said migrants and refugees, as well as those fleeing domestic violence, were also among those struggling to find accommodation.

Audas says that one of the main reasons that roaming rates are higher in regional and rural Australia than in the capital cities is that people in large urban areas have access to more resources in terms of travel services. housing assistance and organizations that support disadvantaged individuals and families. .

However, he says part of the problem is that “the benefits of an increase in housing are medium to long term benefits, but governments live in an electoral cycle that does not support long term planning.”

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