Renters lose out in governments’ ‘patchy’ response to the pandemic

Renters were the big losers with the state and territory governments’ hasty response to the pandemic labelled “patchy” in a new report.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute-commissioned research found the governments emergency response, including eviction moratoriums, rent variation frameworks and rent relief was remarkable, but implementation of the measures was hit and miss.

According to the report, Australia’s COVID-19 Pandemic Housing Policy Responses, putting the policies in place was left to both landlords and agents, who were responsible for their delivery.

As such some were not implemented completely and produced mixed or modest outcomes.

Lead researcher, Professor Chris Leishman, of the University of South Australia, said governments needed to do more to put their policies into practice.

“While the emergency response to private rental policies applied by the states and territories was remarkable, discussions with sector stakeholders showed there was dissatisfaction with the rules around rent variations and a feeling that policy makers should not expect the sector’s landlords and agents to cover critical events,” Professor Leishman said.

“In addition, only a small minority of tenants, between 8 and 16 percent, got a rent variation, while more were discouraged or refused and more moved out. 

“We also saw also evidence of significant underspending in most rent relief schemes.”

Professor Leishman said policies implemented to support home ownership during COVID-19 helped in the short-term, but may cause problems later on as the effects of ‘bring-forward’ demand, coupled with labour and material shortages, contribute to rising prices. 

“We identified that greater collaboration with industry in the development of policy settings, such as with HomeBuilder, could have avoided some of the supply and cost issues and spread the level of development activity over a longer period,” he said.

The government response to people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19 was seen as positive with many rough sleepers and other homeless people able to be placed in temporary emergency accommodation Professor Leishman said.

“The scale, as well as the rapid evolution, of Australia’s emergency measures compared favourably to similar initiatives seen internationally,” he said.

“Such a positive response does raise the question of whether governments can maintain effective policies into the future.”

Building social housing in response to the pandemic has been an important source of economic stimulus and re-investment in housing infrastructure, particularly in Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. 

However, Professor Leishman believes a nationwide approach would be more effective and in line with other countries.

“Overall, our research shows that for housing policy interventions to be most effective there should be better sharing of information between state and territory jurisdictions on a regular basis, as well as between and within government, business stakeholders and not-for-profit sectors,” he said.

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a freelance journalist specialising in finance and real estate.