Government inquiry hears desperate stories of Australians living below poverty line, struggling to rent

Migrant advocates and community groups alike have called for the federal government to do more to address the housing crisis that threatens to tip more Australians below the poverty line.

Community leaders and support workers have told a senate inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty that people were being priced out of rentals and were having to choose between skipping meals and medicines in order to keep a roof over their head.

Vietnamese Community in Australia president Paul Huy Nguyen said migrants and refugees were overrepresented in the proportion of people struggling to find a rental or make their mortgage payments.

He hit out at “each and every” government that had failed to prioritise the problem.

He warned that while governments had pledged to open more visas to migrants, there were limited options to house them.

“There is a lack of fundamental accommodation,” he told the inquiry.

According to Domain’s last available set of data, the average vacancy rate across the country was 0.8 per cent in November – which experts warn could further tighten due to the return of overseas students.

Camera IconLower-income individuals and families are being priced out of rentals. NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper Credit: News Corp Australia

Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers said the nature of inequality was changing, and the poverty gap – the gap between the average income of those below the poverty line and the poverty line itself – was growing.

“The face of poverty is changing. There are families who have access to one or two incomes who are still facing poverty,” she said.

“And housing is coming up (as a major issue for our clients) over and over. It’s out of reach for so many people.

“(Research) continually shows there are no affordable rentals for people and families on government welfares.”

As higher earners bid against low-income individuals or families within the same dwindling rental market, people are being left with no option but to cut funds from elsewhere in their budget in order to have a roof over their head.

The inquiry was told one family had been able to pay the $700-a-week asking price for a rental, but the owners had instead accepted a much higher offer of $900 by another family.

Camera IconAnglicare says many Australians are being forced to choose between buying medicines, groceries or paying their rent. NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia

Ms Chambers said the cost-of-living crisis was placing unprecedented pressure on Australian families.

“We hear from parents who keep children back from school toward the end of their payment cycles because they can’t afford to put anything in their lunch boxes and want to avoid the stigma,” she said.

“They’re thinking about how many meals they can miss a week.

“It’s having a huge impact on housing because it’s the least elastic part of any budget.

“People are letting go of their car insurance, dropping off preventive health items, not cashing prescriptions, not going to the dentist (so they can afford rent) … People are really in need.”

Camera IconThe inquiry heard from community leaders and welfare advocates who urged the government to do more to tackle the housing crisis. NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper Credit: News Corp Australia

Her colleague Brad Braithwaite said there was a sense of hopelessness as costs rise in all sectors.

“The escalation in the cost of living has become an existential crisis for many people that has mental health effects as well,” he said.

“Even working people are finding themselves at or below the poverty line. It’s like seeing people on a life raft anchored to a rising tide.”

He said governments of all level should be investing heavily in addressing housing issues.

Ismet Tastan, co-chair of the Democratic Kurdish Community Centre of NSW, said if governments didn’t do more to tackle rising poverty and the housing crisis, it could lead to an increase in crime.

“And if we don’t do anything, it will cause more trauma and more crimes and affect communities,” he said.

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