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Renting in the time of COVID-19: understanding the impacts

Today a new AHURI report was published revealing the hardship that renters are facing during COVID-19. The report was co-authored by 4 researchers from the Healthy Housing CRE: Prof Emma Baker, Prof Rebecca Bentley, Prof Andrew Beer, Dr Lyrian Daniel.

Media coverage summarised below featured important commentary from Professor Emma Baker, Deputy Director of the Healthy Housing CRE.

"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.

"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"."

"Victorians had endured the biggest mental toll due to the state’s extended lockdowns, lead researcher Emma Baker of the University of Adelaide said.

“And renters have been buffered to a great extent, especially when JobKeeper and JobSeeker were in full flight, and with hits on their superannuation and using up their savings,” she said.

“So I suspect the story will get much worse (when these buffers disappear).”

Almost two-thirds of 15,000 tenants surveyed for a new report revealed they had endured negative changes to their employment or income.

Prof Baker said the survey revealed JobKeeper had helped struggling renters “keep their head above water”, while the COVID-19 supplement boosting JobSeeker had increased quality of life by, for example, allowing people to “afford fruit and vegetables for the first time”.

More support after JobKeeper ended on March 28 and the JobSeeker supplement expired on December 31 was crucial, she said, noting the next round needed to be targeted towards those in greatest need like families and households earning less than $90,000 per year.

Prof Baker also called for a co-ordinated national framework for tenant-landlord negotiations on rent reductions."

"University of Adelaide Professor of Housing Research Emma Baker said the data painted a very bleak picture, but also opened up opportunities to fix some of the biggest issues for renters.

That included ensuring minimum standards of rental properties were met across all states and territories and introducing longer leases for housing stability.

Professor Baker said targeted assistance was needed for tenants in most need. That included people renting privately who had lost work, and single parents.

“Private tenants have done worse than those in social housing and families, including single parents, have also done worse,” she said."


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