Rental crisis leaves Mandurah mothers facing homelessness

LOOKING FOR A NEW HOME: Nine of Jennifer's kids enjoying a day out. Holly, Emily, Felicity, Abbey, Hayley, Matthew, Ebony, Jaxon and Shelby. Photo: Supplied.
LOOKING FOR A NEW HOME: Nine of Jennifer's kids enjoying a day out. Holly, Emily, Felicity, Abbey, Hayley, Matthew, Ebony, Jaxon and Shelby. Photo: Supplied.

When Mandurah mother Rebecca moved to WA from Queensland with her children, leaving behind friends and family for an exciting new life, she had no idea she might end up homeless.

A single mother to 10 children whose ages range from five months to 19 years, Rebecca was living happily in her new community, settling into Mandurah and integrating her kids into their new schools.

But with the COVID-19 rental moratorium at an end, Rebecca and her children are among the families who may end up facing homelessness.

"My landlord gave me seven days' notice to begin with," Rebecca said.

"I sought legal advice and it was confirmed that since the lease was ended before the moratorium ended, more notice was required. So, thankfully, I was given a bit more time to start applying for properties."

The WA government introduced a moratorium on March 30, 2020 on some evictions and all rent increases so people who were facing financial hardship brought on by the pandemic would not find themselves homeless. The moratorium came to an end on March 28.

Affordable rental properties in the Peel have been in decline in recent months, with this accelerating as the end of the moratorium approached and landlords looked to increase rents that have been on hold for 12 months.

Rebecca immediately began applying for properties when she was given notice. With a good rental history and having never been in arrears, she thought she would be an ideal candidate for a rental.

However, she found that landlords expressed concern over the size of her family.

Help nowhere to be found

"When you say the rental is for you and 10 children, people automatically think you're a risk - or that you won't be able to afford rent."

Each day she applies for viewings for rentals from Bunbury to Perth, but so far with no luck. Rebecca now has just three weeks to find somewhere else to live

"I have no family or friends over here. My children and I will be living in a car if we can't find a place," she said.

Rebecca has reached out to a number of crisis services, however none have yet been able to find her a place to stay.

"With so many families needing their services, they just haven't had the resources or space to help me," she said.

"How am I going to warm up my daughter's bottles in a car?"

Rebecca is sharing her story in the hopes that anyone struggling with this situation knows that they are not alone, and that it is important to seek help if you're struggling.

"I'm currently on the highest dose of anti-depressant medication. This situation has just impacted me so much. I went in to see my doctor for something unrelated and I just burst into tears," she said.

"My doctor said 'why didn't you come in earlier?' If I hadn't seen my doctor to talk about what I was going through, I might not even be talking to you today."

Rebecca is putting on a brave face for her children, and is continuing to search for a place for her family.

"My grandma always said 'you laugh during the day and you cry at night'," she said.

"I understand that now. I want my kids to laugh and enjoy the day, and I just deal with everything else and the emotions later.

"Seeking mental health help has made a huge difference."

More than renting, escaping

Another Mandurah mother, who has chosen to remain anonymous as she navigates the family court system, has said that the rental crisis greatly impacts those escaping from domestic violence situations.

"I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. He was very controlling, tracking my whereabouts, reading my messages - I needed to leave that situation," the woman told the Mail.

She was forced to move into her parents' house with her four children, while she desperately searched for a place for her family.

"I've got everything going against me," she said.

"I don't have a big rental history because my ex-partner and I had our own home, I have a casual income because I'm a single mum and I feel like there is a stigma around renting as a single mum."

Like Rebecca, the woman has applied for a number properties online, with many being taken down from websites and marked as 'sold' before viewings.

"We are a quiet family, we don't cause any problems, but on paper we just aren't being considered as candidates," she said.

"People are being forced to offer way above the price to secure a property. I just can't afford that much."

Mandurah H&N Perry Real Estate sales director Frank Lawrence said with the end of the moratorium the Peel region could expect to see more rentals available but also an increase in rent.

He advised landlords to look beyond just who is willing to pay the highest rent.

"Landlords should consider the quality of the tenant, not just who will pay the highest rent," Mr Lawrence said.

Mayor Rhys Williams has previously said that the City of Mandurah is taking steps towards increasing support for those who find themselves in dire situations.

"More generally, while housing and financial relief is squarely a state and federal government responsibility, these are local people and families that are impacted," he said.

"We will continue to work directly with the homeless and family support groups, organisations and volunteers to provide support to those finding themselves in a vulnerable position."

In a previous Mail article, it was reported that West Aus Crisis and Welfare Services chief executive Lynn Rogers had fears that the rental shortage would lead to an increase in homelessness in Mandurah.

"A recent heatmap highlighted a homelessness problem and a social housing shortfall in every federal electorate," she said.

"The lack of housing people can afford is not only the cause of homelessness but it also prevents people escaping homelessness."

Crisis lines:

  • Crisis Care Helpline 9223 1111
  • West Aus Crisis Care and Welfare Services 9582 9920
  • Homeless Advisory Service 1800 065 892
  • Halo Team 9534 9994
  • Pat Thomas House 9535 4775