A growing number of people with jobs and mortgages are turning to charities for help because they can’t afford food and rent, according to Perth not-for-profits.
- Charities say there is a growing cohort of “working poor” as more people with jobs and mortgages struggle to pay for food and housing
- Community groups and the real estate industry were part of a meeting to brainstorm urgent solutions in Perth on Tuesday
- The WA government did not respond directly when asked if it would consider financial support in response to the rental crisis but pointed to its upcoming budget
Anglicare chief executive Mark Glasson said the rising cost of living was driving more people to his service despite having a source of income.
“What we’re seeing is a new group of people emerging, seeking support for bills and food assistance, and they’re people that we wouldn’t normally have seen in the past,” Mr Glasson said.
Mr Glasson said Anglicare has had to employ more staff to meet the rising demand for its services.
He said the not-for-profit had also seen an increase in the number of people signing leases when they were not sure they could afford the payments.
“Just to keep the roof over their head,” Mr Glasson said.
“They will be the people who are doing it really, really tough with electricity, petrol prices, potentially interest rates.”
Foodbank WA chief executive Kate O’Hara said their organisation was seeing a similar trend of more clients who were “underemployed” or considered to be “working poor.”
“[We are] absolutely seeing that phenomenon emerging and becoming more of an issue pretty much week by week,” she said.
“It’s just growing incrementally.”
Ms O’Hara said Foodbank had also needed to adapt its services to meet the growing need.
Concerns about the issue were raised at a stakeholder meeting held on Tuesday to brainstorm urgent solutions to the rental crisis.
Hosted by Shelter WA, the meeting was attended by community housing workers, academics, planners and representatives from the real estate industry.
Suggestions for “quick fixes” to address the crisis included repurposing unoccupied office spaces and ground-floor shopfronts, but the proposal that garnered the most support was to establish a rental assistance scheme.
Anglicare data suggests Perth residents were better able to cope with rental costs when the federal COVID-19 Jobseeker supplement roughly doubled the payment amount.
It shows that when the payments began, the percentage of housing considered “affordable” — requiring less than 30 per cent of a household’s income — rose by up to more than 15 per cent for some demographics.
Mr Glasson said this showed that financial assistance was needed.
“The cost to the community if a family becomes homeless is way more expensive than any rent assistance that you would give them,” Mr Glasson said.
According to the Real Estate Institute of WA, the rental vacancy rate in WA is 1.2 per cent, and the median rent in Perth was $450 in December last year.
A moratorium on rent rises and evictions, implemented as an emergency measure in 2020, ended in March 2021.
In late 2021 it was revealed that the WA government had spent just 2 per cent of a $319 million budget allocated to build new social housing and refurbish existing buildings.
A Department of Communities report said part of the reason was that the department was having difficulties getting contractors and tradespeople to perform the work.
A Residential Rent Relief Grant Scheme was introduced by the WA government for tenants and landlords who were struggling financially due to the pandemic, but that ended in December last year.
Shadow Housing Minister Steve Martin said more financial assistance for renters should be considered if the rental situation was as bad, if not worse than it was when the relief schemes were introduced.
Pointing to the reported difficulties getting social housing built, Mr Martin said the government should also be purchasing suitable properties.
A WA government spokesperson did not respond directly when asked if the government would support a rental relief scheme, but pointed to its budget being released next week.
“In the lead up to the state budget, we’ll continue to keep our finances strong while helping Western Australians by keeping cost of living pressures as low as possible and the economy firing to support local jobs,” it said.