Locked out of the rental market as crisis accommodation fills up

Townsville is facing its worst housing crisis in more than 30 years, according to the city's social housing service providers.

Key points:

Homelessness advocates say Townsville is facing its worst housing crisis in 30 years

Young families are being turned away from crisis accommodation

A family with a six-year-old child having been living out of motel rooms for months

"It's the worst I've ever seen it" said Ruth Stainbrook, the manager of Family Emergency Accommodation Townsville (FEAT).

Ms Stainbrook said FEAT is being forced to turn away helpless families who do not have a home to live in.

"The reason we've got no vacancies in our homelessness housing is people aren't leaving our housing, where they would traditionally stay three, four or five months, get some money together, move into social housing or private rental. That's not happening anymore," she said.

A woman with blonde short hair at her desk working with a laptop
Ms Stainbrook says the region is experiencing its worst housing crisis in 30 years.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

Townsville is facing an epidemic of homeless families, according to Ms Stainbrook, who has worked with north Queensland's homeless for more than three decades.

"It's pretty heartbreaking to tell families that you're either going to be stuck in homeless accommodation for another year or so, or you're not even going to get the opportunity to get into homeless accommodation," she said."

In north Queensland, family homelessness is often hidden from view.

"You don't see children sleeping on the street with their families [but] it doesn't mean they're not homeless. They're people living in very unsafe situations, maybe with perpetrators of violence, [often in] overcrowded situations. Might be all one family living in one room," Ms Stainbrook said.

"That is not good for children."

Family motel-hopping as they search for a property

Penelope Ulisala has been looking for a Townsville rental property since May 2021.

For the last three months, she has been living in motels across the city with her husband and their six-year-old daughter.

A woman sits at a small round table in front of a brick motel room.
Penelope Ulisala has been living in motels across Townsville with her husband and daughter.(ABC News: Jade Toomey)

The disability support worker, who relocated from Mt Isa, said she has applied for at least 20 homes.

She doesn't know why she keeps getting rejected.

"The landlords say they decided to pick the other people, it's what they keep telling us," Ms Ulisala said.

"I thought it was only myself, but I talked to some other people who said they've been here (in the motel) longer than us," she said.

Bidding wars drive rental prices up

Bidding wars for rental properties are not uncommon in north Queensland these days, according to the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ).

"In Queensland, rental bidding is not permitted; we have legislation that prohibits that practice," said REIQ chief executive Antonia Mercorella.

"But because of the very competitive landscape we are seeing people offering more than the advertised rental price."

Townsville's vacancy rate dropped to 0.6 per cent in the latest September 2021 quarter, a rate Ms Mercorella described as "incredibly tight."

Anything below 2.5 per cent is classified as 'tight.'

REIQ CEO Antonia Mercorella looks at papers.
Antonia Mercorella says the rental property market is "very tight".(ABC News: Tim Swanston)

The COVID pandemic is driving an influx of "COVID refugees", many of whom have moved to regional areas to escape lockdowns in other states and capital cities.

"We've also seen half a million ex-pats come back to Australia, and that would have resulted in increased demand for rental properties and in some instances those ex-pats would be property owners who have taken their properties back," said Ms Mercorella.

It is a phenomenon that is being experienced right across most of regional Queensland. The area recorded a vacancy rate below 1 per cent in the September 2021 quarter.

Sixteen years on Queensland's social housing register

There is also a stubborn backlog for those waiting for social housing.

More than 2,000 households were added to Queensland's social housing register last financial year, with a total of 2,435 applicants waiting in the Townsville region.

More than three-quarters are listed as having a 'very high' need for social housing.

One applicant has spent 16 years on the register after initially applying in July 2005. The register shows they have a child and a disability.

More than 30 others have been waiting for more than 100 months — more than eight years.

A spokesperson from the Department of Communities, Housing and Digital economy said that “many of those who have registered have been assisted to respond to their needs.

Through a planned investment of $67.7 million over four years will commence 229 new social homes in north Queensland.”

A block of modern units
Experts are pointing to the worst accommodation crisis in three decades.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

Labor member for Townsville Scott Stewart said this was "in addition to the 140 new social homes in the Townsville Region that are already commenced.”

Mr Stewart said the Queensland government has dedicated $2.9 billion to a homelessness and housing action plan.

"We know there are some issues in the housing market particularly when it comes to supply of materials," he said.

"There's been a lot of people moving north particularly from southern states. There's a large demand for social housing, and we're responding."

Posted 4 Nov 20214 Nov 2021Thu 4 Nov 2021 at 12:23am, updated 4 Nov 20214 Nov 2021Thu 4 Nov 2021 at 12:35amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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