SPECIAL REPORT: The impacts of COVID on rental affordability

The rental affordability situation in regional Victoria is at crisis point as inner-city Melbourne couples and families head for the countryside in search of room to breathe after last year’s COVID lockdowns.

Anglicare Victoria’s 2021 Rental Affordability Snapshot (RAS) was conducted as part of the national Snapshot undertaken by Anglicare Australia. The Snapshot is an annual survey of the affordability of rental properties for people living on low incomes in Victoria.

The most notable trend in the 12 months to March 2021 was the sharp decrease in the affordability and availability of rental properties in regional, rural and coastal Victoria. Many individuals and families chose to abandon Melbourne after the second COVID-19 lockdown, creating a squeeze on rental properties in the regions. Along with the increased interest in the regions, landlords in many areas are taking their homes out of the rental market and putting them on Airbnb to take advantage of the boom in domestic holidaymaking.

Overall, the number of rental listings increased to 33,710 from 19,435 in 2020. However, only 1422 (4%) of these listings were in regional Victoria, less than half the figure from 2020. The 9261 rental listings available in the CBD were more than 2.5 times last year’s total of 3320.

Single people (with and without children) on income support or pension continue to be the most disadvantaged group. And only 0.2 per cent (53) of the listings were suitable for a couple with two young children getting by on JobSeeker.

Options to address the situation include a rise to income support payments beyond the $25/fortnight announced in 2021, improved mental health and family violence support, Commonwealth rent assistance and innovative funding models such as social impact bonds.

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