A large proportion of Victorian families experience homelessness as they struggle to obtain and keep affordable housing in the rental market, according to a new report by Swinburne University of Technology.
The report Fighting for my Family, conducted with Hanover Welfare Services, interviewed 57 families from Melbourne and regional Victoria that were experiencing homelessness over an 18-month period.
The study found that almost all of the families relied on the private rental sector for housing and had done so for most of the adults’ lives. Only seven of the 57 families had been homeowners.
Increased competition in the private rental market since the mid-2000s was a major issue for families who struggled to access private rental, even when they had successful tenancies in the past.
Families reported there were 20 or even 50 applicants in regular attendance at house inspections. Insufficient income meant they could not compete with dual-income, working households that could offer more rent in advance or simply pay more than advertised.
Most families felt agents and landlords did not want children in their properties, particularly in a single-parent family. At times, this was exacerbated by discrimination against disability, indigenous status, having lived in public housing, or having rented a property that burnt down.
Providing references and copies of income statements and passing credit reference checks was a process that immediately disadvantaged individuals who had been homeless. Others had no rental history to provide and this was found to be as bad as a poor tenancy record, which some families had.
The report revealed it was increasingly difficult for the families to maintain their private tenancies if their circumstances changed, such as an adult losing their job or a family member becoming ill.
Families reported that if they had any arrears, they could no longer negotiate repayment like they could prior to the mid-2000s. In current competitive conditions, agents are now demanding full payment by the due date, and starting proceedings for eviction immediately when tenants fail to comply with their tenancy agreements.
Tony Keenan, Hanover's chief executive, said the research showed that while a lot of work had been done to increase the support available to families, many still struggled due to a lack of affordable housing.
"The research showed the underlying causes of family homelessness is unemployment, poverty and a shocking lack of affordable housing,” he said.
“Domestic violence remains a big factor in family homelessness, but for many families, falling behind in rent, being evicted and locked out of the private rental market are significant factors contributing to family homelessness.
"In spite of significant adversity, the research showed families 'doing it tough' are resilient, and they remain committed to getting housing and supporting their families."