Government pushing ahead with controversial remote rental change as housing stress plagues Northern Territory

Government pushing ahead with controversial remote rental change as housing stress plagues Northern Territory

The Northern Territory government is pushing ahead with a controversial policy change that will increase the rents of many remote residents.

Key points: Researchers used census data to conclude that the NT is faring worst in a national housing crisis. They say around one in five local households live in an inappropriate housing situation Despite this, the NT Government is pushing ahead with a change to its remote tenancy scheme

At the same time, new research has exposed the reality of the area’s housing problems, concluding that the NT faces the country’s worst housing stress.

The analysis by UNSW and the University of Sydney used data from the most recent census in 2021.

It said almost six per cent of households in Darwin and more than one in five in regional areas had unmet housing need – that is, people were either homeless, living with overcrowding or spending more than a third of their income on rent.

The Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA), which commissioned the research, said the NT’s regional figure was by far the worst in the country.

Some remote residents in public housing will soon pay higher rents. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Karen Walsh, CHIA’s NT representative and the head of a local community housing organisation, said the problem was being driven by a significant shortage in both the NT’s urban private markets and public housing in its remote areas.

“Right now there is a massive unmet need and we also have rents skyrocketing; we have people competing for properties,” she said.

“One of the properties we showed to potential tenants a few weeks ago, one property in Coconut Grove, had over 100 people show up for that viewing.

“Some of those people were so desperate to get affordable rental housing that they offered even higher rents, which is totally unacceptable, but it really demonstrates how desperate people are to get a safe, affordable home.”

The Community Housing Industry Association’s Karen Walsh commissioned the research. (ABC News: Peter Garnish)

Ms Walsh said the research strengthened the case for the NT to receive federal homelessness funding based on levels of need rather than its population.

The NT Government has worked to address the shortage with a 10-year, $1.1 billion housing program in remote areas and by growing the urban community housing sector.

Price increase for remote tenants

The housing research was released a day after the government confirmed it would press ahead with a restructuring of its tenancy framework, which has fueled fears it could adversely affect tenants in remote and disadvantaged areas.

The changes – which would see tenants charged rent based on the number of bedrooms in their homes rather than their income – were initially delayed amid backlash from Aboriginal land councils last year.

However, starting Monday, tenants will begin paying a flat rate of $70 per room per week, capped at $280.

The government said the new model would replace an outdated system with a fair and consistent one that would generate money for upgrades and repairs in its remote housing program.

But advocates still warn that the change will leave two-thirds of remote renters worse off and could worsen overcrowding, poverty and homelessness.

Skye Thompson from community-run organization Aboriginal Housing NT (AHNT) said in a statement she feared the government had not modeled the effect the change would have on remote tenants.

“Increasing the rents of the most marginalized people in the Northern Territory will only put further pressure on families, particularly around Central Australia,” she said.

“We are concerned that the framework will exacerbate these cost of living pressures and could see even more people in remote communities move into towns like Alice Springs.”

AHNT called on the government to maintain its current model until a new framework is designed with stakeholders.

The government admitted some tenants would face increases but said it would install a “safety net” to prevent anyone spending more than a quarter of their income on rent.

The government also waived some historic lease debt under the restructuring.

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