Lack of rentals, cuts to Jobseeker may push locals into homelessness

Murraylands welfare agency AC Care predicts thousands of locals may be at risk of eviction this year unless governments act.

Shane Maddocks wants the federal government to reconsider its plan to cut welfare payments as affordable housing dries up. Photo: AC Care.

A lack of rental houses and cuts to government payments risk creating a homelessness crisis in the Murraylands, a local welfare agency says.

Twenty-four Murray Bridge families needed to find emergency accommodation during December and January, according to AC Care – twice as many as during the same period in 2019-20.

The number of families in need of emergency relief also increased, by 28 per cent to 313 families, this summer.

Chief executive Shane Maddocks feared that the removal of the $150-per-fortnight coronavirus supplement to government payments, expected on March 31, would only make things worse.

“The true impact of the pandemic is now becoming much clearer as the economy rebuilds and affordable accommodation rapidly dries up in our regions, leading to alarming waiting lists for housing,” he said.

“The government must hear the growing consensus in our society that now is the time to increase Jobseeker long-term to a level that is sustainable and allows all people opportunities to afford basic necessities and climb out of the poverty trap.

“Otherwise, despite the best efforts of organisations such as ours, increasing numbers of people may be left unable to afford their rent and with nowhere else to go.

“If this crisis is not averted, these families and individuals could tragically be forced into rough sleeping ... at levels not seen before in regional South Australia, prompting diverse social, health and welfare issues that could be avoided.”

Too few rental properties, too many renters

A big part of the problem was demand for housing in regional centres, which had spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic as people realised the benefits of living in less congested and relatively inexpensive areas, Mr Maddocks said.

As houses were snapped up by newcomers from the cities, vulnerable locals were being overlooked.

Murray Bridge News reported last month that there were more than 250 homes for sale in Murray Bridge, but fewer than 30 available to rent.

Dozens of tenants, and people unable to find a property to rent, reached out with tales of despair and patience worn thin.

“This issue will not go away without significant government intervention,” Mr Maddocks said.

He suggested that a permanent increase to Jobseeker payments would put recipients on a level playing field with other tenants.

More than 2800 Murray Bridge residents who rely on government payments are expected to lose the coronavirus supplement at the end of March, according to the most recent Department of Social Services data.

About two thirds are Jobseeker recipients.

On that basis, the payment cut will take more than $210,000 per week out of Murray Bridge's economy.

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