SOCIAL services fear the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis could drive homelessness in the region.
It comes as new figures from the Department of Health and Human Services show the number of affordable rental properties had already plummeted before the outbreak hit the region.
The data show the number of rentals considered affordable in Greater Geelong plunged from 20.1 per cent for the September quarter to 16.5 per cent in the December quarter.
The department classifies properties as affordable if tenants are spending less than 30 per cent of their gross income on rent.
The median rent across all properties in Greater Geelong increased from $370 to $375 per week.
Give Where You Live Foundation chief executive Bill Mithen said housing was going to become come less affordable as people lost income amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The pandemic is wreaking havoc on businesses, with many people out of work.
“It’s just going to get worse and worse,” Mr Mithen said.
“While I think the government has made some good and strong announcements around payments to people to keep their heads above water, it’s going to be incumbent on landlords and owners to come to the party with rent relief in some way, shape or form,” Mr Mithen said.
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“Unless property owners are willing to come to the party people will be driven from their homes which will be horrific.
“There’s no question that there’s a possibility it could drive homelessness which is a disaster for the community.”
Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan said the drop in the rental affordability rate could potentially be linked to a lower tenant turnover or properties being removed from the market.
Ms Calnan said vacancy rates were low at the moment regionally, with Geelong at 2.2 per cent.
A comfortable vacancy rate is about 3 per cent, she said.
Ms Calnan said there would likely be a lower tenant turnover in the next six months as people “bunker down” amid the pandemic.
“But we still have population growth, so we’ll see it become tighter again over the next few months,” she said.
Ms Calnan said the REIV was awaiting guidance from government for rental assistance guidelines for landlords and tenants.
“My advice to tenants is to talk to your landlords about your situation,” she said.
Ms Calnan said landlords may agree to adjust payments or implement delayed payments.
“We’re well aware that renters will experience financial hardship, but landlords will experience financial hardship too,” she said.
“We have to balance the two.”
Originally published as Homelessness could spike due to COVID-19