house and key
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  • The study was undertaken by five universities
  • Worryingly, two-thirds of renters in the study said there mental health had worsened over the past 18 months
  • Those in regional areas noted influx of renters from city areas

With close to three years since the pandemic began, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has reviewed how the rental sector has been performing during this time.

Titled The impact of the pandemic on the Australian rental sector the research has been undertaken for AHURI by researchers from the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia, Curtin University, Swinburne University and the University of Melbourne.

It investigates the Australian rental sector during the second year of the pandemic and considers priorities for governments and tenants to reflect on the effectiveness of assistance and interventions.

“By the second year of the pandemic, more than half of our research interview participants stated that they had struggled financially”, said lead researcher Professor Emma Baker of the University of Adelaide.

“One-third of interviewees expressed concern over the increasing cost of living, such as rent, groceries and fuel, particularly those who relied on pensions for income. Some participants had also accessed non-government support during times of hardship in the form of food relief from Foodbank or Vinnies.”

More than two-thirds of interview participants said their mental health had worsened over the past year and a half. This has been attributed to lockdowns, limited social interactions and both personal and financial pressures.

Additionally, half of the respondents said their physical health had worsened due to the pandemic – in particular due to low access to gyms and fitness facilities.

Concerned about securing suitable and affordable rental properties

Participants expressed a widespread concern in being able to find and secure a suitable and affordable property in the current climate. Half of the participants suggested it was harder to find suitable homes in their price range.

For those in regional areas, respondents noted an influx of people from the city areas, increasing competition and prices.

The research also found that housing and home become more important for online learning, productivity, a site of relations and social support.

Subsequently, detached housing located close to family and friends are now of a higher priority for private tenants compared to before the pandemic.

Four overarching observations

The report noted four key observations in consultation with policy stakeholders.

These where:

  • Current challenges within the rental sector are reflective of pre-pandemic problems
  • No central leadership, interest in or mandating ina guide for reform of the private rental sector, with governments focused on smaller-scale social housing interventions
  • Government thinking appears to be primarily focused on increasing supply, however, labour and materials shortages within the sector represent major challenges
  • There is an awareness that the pandemic has increased the importance of intersectoral links across governments, along with the need to bring housing, welfare and health together. Especially across Indigenous communities.

The research also shows that there is an enduring need for policy action and innovation focused on the rental market.

“Key initiatives could include reform of tenancy legislation such as protection from rent increases and retaliatory landlord behaviour, and more stable lease arrangements; the provision of a larger stock of affordable housing available through the social housing sector; and measures to sustain affordable entry into home ownership,” the report said.

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