By OSCAR PENNI
Alice Springs is essentially full when it comes to those looking to rent a house, with major supply shortages causing a rise in price and putting pressure on low income earners.
Penny and Vivienne had been living in rural Victoria during 2020, and were keen for a move to a warmer climate.
They did not allow us to use their photo nor their surnames because they are afraid the lease for a house they are negotiating may not go through.
Penny has lived in Alice Springs previously, and knew the job market was good, so when restrictions eased the young couple, along with their dog, Hallie (pictured) took the opportunity to make their way to the Territory.
Within a week, they both had work, Penny, a machine operator, got the first job she applied for and Vivienne is now employed in a pet care business.
But the house search has taken a lot longer, a month later they were still living in a tent and have only just been accepted for a one bedroom unit, which they are currently moving into.
They have been scouring real estate sites, as well as gumtree and social media for somewhere to live. Penny says she has lost count of how many places she has applied for.
They say money is not the issue for them, they have even offered to pay extra rent or deposit if landlords are concerned about the dog.
The issue is competition, Penny says there are regularly over a dozen people showing up to inspect a house on the market.
“We’ve got no chance because one, we’ve got a dog, and two, I guarantee one of them is going to be a lawyer or a doctor or something with a really high wage and they’re gonna want that over us.
“You’ve got 16 people fighting over a tiny two bedroom house, because it’s the only house available.”
Until they have a fixed address the couple are unable to change their license address, complete qualifications for work, or even open a PO box at the Post Office.
They say that there are others in similar situations at the caravan park, as well as people they’ve come across in town who are in the same situation as them, with work but nowhere to live.
Penny says she had to “fight tooth and nail” for the unit they’ve found, going into the real estate office daily to see what was on offer. They say the granny flat in Braitling is pretty tiny and is in “bad condition.
“But we were desperate, all we told them we needed was some space outside for the dog.”
Statistics from independent group SQM Research show just how little there is on the rental market currently.
The vacancy rate has been steadily falling since the start of the year, and now sits at 0.4%, and the rent asked for houses is up 11.2% from 12 months ago for houses, and 9.7% for units.
Only 22 rentals were listed in the week up to August 25, the number has steadily fallen since this year’s peak of 78 in January.
Since SQM began recording these statistics at the start of 2011, the number of listings had not dropped below 50 before March this year, and since then it has not risen above it.
Real estate sales are up though, with over 100 units or houses sold in each of the last four quarters, the first time this has happened since the start of 2015.
“Our residential rental market remains solid with vacancy rates dropping and pressure on rents increasing as demand outstrips supply,” reads the most recent Real Estate Institute of the Northern Territory’s (REINT) annual report. REINT Southern Delegate Andrew Doyle refused to speak to The News about the rental crisis in Alice Springs.
While the high demand and high prices are good news for landlords and real estate agents, people on low income are feeling the heat, says Peter McMillan, CEO of the Territory’s peak body for affordable housing, NT Shelter.
“This is an issue the whole Territory is facing, but with a higher average rent than Darwin and such a low vacancy rate, Alice Springs residents are being significantly affected.
“If you look at the number of people at the low income end, waiting for public housing, that number has really ballooned out over the last year.
“The key issue is there’s no plans for any significant new [public housing] builds in Alice Springs that we’re aware of, even though the demand is rising.
“What we really need is some sort of strategy that says, when you’re releasing land for residential development, there has to be a portion of that, that’s affordable for low to moderate income owners and key workers.
“If you don’t have housing, you’re going to be putting a brake on the growth opportunity, you’re just not going to have the increase population that you need to grow your economy.”
A “snapshot” of the rental market conducted by AnglicareNT in March found that only 9% of listed rentals Territory wide were “appropriate and affordable” for a couple, both receiving minimum wage, with two children.
And they’re the lucky ones, 10 of the other 14 low income household types in the report had zero listings that were deemed suitable, and only 2% for a couple living on their age pension, which is the most generous of the Government’s welfare payments.
There are currently 1300 applications for a public housing tenancy in Alice Springs, and with only 109 taken off this list last year, the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities estimates a four to six year wait to be granted a public housing tenancy, and six to eight years for a three bedroom house.
Shockingly there aren’t even that many public housing dwellings (pictured) in Alice, according to the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities they manage 1115 dwellings in the town.
Many of the public housing dwelling is Alice Springs do not appear to be in good shape, with boarded up windows and doorways.
A Department of Territory Housing, Families and Communities spokesperson said that as at July 26, these dwellings were occupied and awaiting repairs.
At the time there were 57 empty urban public housing dwelling, with only 13 of those ready for new tenants. 36 were awaiting repairs, and eight are ”pending disposal”, as repairs were deemed uneconomical.
The department says: “The NT Government is looking at options to increase the number of social and affordable homes in Alice Springs to meet the needs of Territorians.”