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NT affordable housing deal celebrated, but single mum Rachel Wilson is still facing homelessness

ABC

Journalist: Roxanne Fitzgerald.

As a discharge nurse who spends her days finding hospital patients a safe place to go home to in a pocket of Australia with one of the highest rates of homelessness, Wonnarua woman Rachel Wilson never thought she would be facing living on the streets herself.

But when a puppy she had given her son entangled her in an eviction she could not fight, the streets were exactly where she ended up.

“I have worked, I have studied my entire life as a single mother raising three children,” she said.

“I didn’t have any support, I put myself through school … I did everything I could to protect myself from being homeless.”

Australia is in a rental crisis. Affordable homes have become scarce and in some regional towns, like Katherine in the Northern Territory, they have become almost impossible to find.

Dozens of Ms Wilson’s applications were rejected by real estate agents swamped under piles of requests.

She even reached out to local caravan sites to see if there was space for her and her son to set up a swag to sleep on the ground.

But during one of the busiest tourist seasons on record, they have been at capacity for months.

“We’ve lived in poverty but getting to this age, I thought I’d finally cracked it. I’m in a full-time job, I’m a registered nurse, I’ve done it all,” Ms Wilson said.

Being homeless is something she “couldn’t see coming”.

$4 million deal to ease the pressure, but much more needed

This month, the Northern Territory government announced it had signed off on a $4 million deal to increase the number of affordable rental properties in Palmerston and Katherine.

It will result in the construction of eight affordable homes in Katherine, specifically to retain the Territory’s workforce, according to Selena Uibo, the NT’s Minister for Housing and Homelands.

“The work we’re doing as a Territory Labor government is opening up more land … across all of the Northern Territory,” Ms Uibo said.

But with almost 6,000 people in the Territory —  according to a recent estimates hearing — waiting for affordable and public housing, and 500 people in Katherine alone, NT Shelter executive officer Peter McMillan said that was not enough.

“Every house that is built, that’s additional and is affordable, is money well spent, and it makes a really big difference to a family,” he said.

“But what we are seeing now is a need for hundreds if not thousands of homes in the Northern Territory, and Katherine is a region that in particular has a very significant need for affordable housing.”

Vacancy rate plummets, rents increase

There are several reasons why Katherine’s rental vacancy rate plummeted to effectively zero this year, according to LJ Hooker principal director Wayne Nayda.

Big projects in the region have brought in lots of contractors who have bought up homes, and a lag in opening up land releases has impacted residential construction.

“For a landlord it’s very good because as soon as a property becomes vacant it’s virtually getting rented out straight away,” Mr Nayda said.

“The waiting periods used to be six to eight weeks to get a tenant, now it’s one or two days.”

Rents have increased by up to $150 per week, or around 25 per cent, Mr Nayda said.

At the rate of the government’s current land releases, Mr Nayda suspects the housing crisis might linger for up to a decade.

“There are builders out there who want land but can’t find any because they won’t release it,” he said.

There’s simply nowhere to rent for ‘the forgotten tribe’

Mr McMillan said the housing crisis was constraining regional towns especially, in more ways than one.

“All the regions are trying to attract workers to grow regional economies. But housing is a common denominator that’s letting us all down,” he said.

He said industries across the board, including critical, frontline services, were struggling to fill vacant positions “because of housing” and were in jeopardy of losing key workers like Ms Wilson, as they looked to other jurisdictions in the search for a house.

“When we’re looking at trying to grow the economy over the next eight years to have a population of 300,000 people [in the Territory], where on earth are all the houses going to come from?” he said.

“It takes time to build housing and renters are hurting right now.

“Renters really are like the forgotten tribe in Australia, they are increasingly having to make difficult choices between food and medical bills, and having to switch off the power when it’s cold, because they can’t afford all the necessities of life.

Review of legislation governing rentals ‘is essential’

A review of the Northern Territory’s residential tenancies act, which governs rules around rent increases, repairs and maintenance for tenants and landlords, was paused late last year, Mr McMillan said, despite a number of important issues that needed to be addressed.

He said the review must be resumed.

“The last thing that we need right now when we’re trying to attract people to come and live and work in the Northern Territory is for them not to be able to find a place to rent, or to be losing the place that they’re currently renting and have to go interstate,” he said.

For now, Ms Wilson, her son and their puppy have a roof over their head — an unfurnished home in Katherine that’s on the market and is likely to sell any day.

“I have this underlying fear … one part of me is so happy we have somewhere [for the interim] and the other part of me doesn’t want to think about what will happen when the house is sold,” she said.

Read the original article here.

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