Forced out of work: Regional housing crisis deepens

REIWA Deputy President Joe White; National Shelter's Adrian Pisarski; Just Home Margaret River members; Vasse MLA Libby Mettam with Dunsborough resident Richard Wain, who addressed Busselton city council in March to highlight the ongoing housing crisis. Photos Supplied.
REIWA Deputy President Joe White; National Shelter's Adrian Pisarski; Just Home Margaret River members; Vasse MLA Libby Mettam with Dunsborough resident Richard Wain, who addressed Busselton city council in March to highlight the ongoing housing crisis. Photos Supplied.

"Being forced out of my job, leaving my parents when they need me the most, leaving friends and losing my self worth."

Those are just some of the mental health hurdles Margaret River local James Burke says he has to look forward to in coming months, as the state's housing crisis continues to affect thousands of tenants.

The 56-year-old moved to the South West 18 months ago, after securing a high level management position in the region and making the decision to live closer to his ageing parents.

"When I first moved to the region I did not struggle to find a rental property at all, in fact I had numerous properties to choose from," Mr Burke told the Mail this week.

"The amount of choice meant I didn't need to make any compromises. For example, owning a dog was not an issue with many of the available rentals being pet friendly.

BUILD MORE: JMW Real Estate's Joe White says local governments need to work on removing barriers to medium and high density housing in regional towns suffering extreme housing shortages. Photo: Supplied

BUILD MORE: JMW Real Estate's Joe White says local governments need to work on removing barriers to medium and high density housing in regional towns suffering extreme housing shortages. Photo: Supplied

"I found a lovely home for $390 per week and signed a 12-month lease."

"At the conclusion of that lease I then re-signed for a further six months - the longest term the owner was prepared to offer - at an increased cost of $430 per week, or a 10 percent increase."

Mr Burke is one of a growing number of people whose employment in the region hinges on the availability of suitable accommodation.

With just four weeks remaining on his current lease, it is now a very real possibility that he will be forced to move back to Perth.

"I will have to resign from my current management position, a position I absolutely love and one that does does so much good for our region," he said.

"I will then be unemployed, weakening my financial position and making securing a rental property as an unemployed person just about impossible.

"My only option will be to move in with a friend and put all my belongings into storage at a cost of approximately $400 per week.

"I will be forced to relocate several hours away from my parents at their time of greatest need.

"I have had to place my 88-year-old mum into aged care and worry constantly about the health of my 87-year-old dad who relies on me for his day-to-day living."

Caroline Hughes of Just Home Margaret River said the housing advocacy group was "extremely worried" about the current housing situation.

"We are developing partnerships to bring viable social housing initiatives to fruition in our local area that will help relieve the pressure in the lower income bracket," Ms Hughes said.

"We recognise that more also needs to be done at the state level to address increasing rents and the lack of affordable housing.

"Just Home supports the consideration of rent controls by the State Government as a possible solution to this awful situation where demand is so high and supply is so low."

But Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA) deputy president and Dunsborough-based real estate agent Joe White said implementing rent controls is what led to the current shortage of homes.

"The water froze in the pipes," he told the Mail, referring to the WA Government's rental moratorium which saw a freeze on rent increases across existing leases and a no-eviction order on tenants until March 28, 2021.

"The rent controls that were brought in caused a complete freeze in the market, and now we are seeing a bottleneck that is taking a very long time to clear."

Mr White said investors who were unable to impose a slight rent increase or evict tenants without a sale contract chose to list their properties, causing a dramatic reduction in rent rolls across the region.

"All the agents in the region experienced a massive sell down on rental stock," he explained. "We desperately need a bigger supply of houses with so many being transferred back into owner-occupied residences."

National Shelter Executive Officer Adrian Pisarski says Australia needs more social and affordable housing, better tenancy laws, and reforms of tax settings to ease the housing crisis. Photo: Shelter Australia

National Shelter Executive Officer Adrian Pisarski says Australia needs more social and affordable housing, better tenancy laws, and reforms of tax settings to ease the housing crisis. Photo: Shelter Australia

National Shelter Executive Officer Adrian Pisarski said COVID-19 had taken its toll on renters.

"Low-income households have fared worst over the past year after an improvement generated by the COVID supplements in the previous year," Mr Pisarki said.

"We are seeing a big shift in regional rents, while some inner cities have become more affordable, our regions are being impacted, people are being forced out and homelessness is rising.

"In WA high incomes are masking a terrible situation for low-income households, by pushing average affordability higher while it remains shockingly unaffordable for people on low incomes.

"Australia needs a National Housing Plan, much more social and affordable housing, better tenancy laws, reforms of tax settings, new planning measures and the removal of incentives distorting our housing system."

Joe White believes the solution lies in removing red tape and transfer duties to encourage the development of more medium and high density housing options.

"Our families are getting smaller, and our houses are getting bigger, it makes no sense," he said.

"We should not be asking people in their 50s and 60s who have worked and raised children all their lives to live in share houses.

"There needs to be more options for studio-style, well built and well designed homes that are affordable for singles and smaller households."

Mr Burke, who faces the prospect of moving his entire life back to Perth within a month, says the situation places even more strain on the economy.

"I will now be in a position of having to claim JobSeeker at the age of 56, my Dad will need to rely on care providers in a sector that already has a horrendous waiting list.

"That is just the financial cost.

"The emotional cost will be far more significant."

This story 'Forced out of work': Margaret River manager faces job loss as housing crisis deepens first appeared on Augusta-Margaret River Mail.