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11 March, 2021

Rental crisis takes its toll

LOCAL nurse Yasmein O’Donoghue is calling for more to be done to help locals struggling to find accommodation amid Cairns rental crisis, which nearly left her family homeless.

By Nicole Gibson

Yasmein O’Donoghue and her family who were within one week of becoming homeless.

Ms O’Donoghue said they were a week away from becoming homeless when a pleading letter to the owner of a rental home at Kewarra Beach secured a property for her family.

The mother of four said she is one of the lucky ones and knows many locals in desperate circumstances.

“We were fortunate but there’s lots of people out there that aren’t as fortunate as us and are actually homeless or at risk on being homeless,” Ms O’Donoghue said.

“I’ve witnessed, here in Kewarra Beach there was a family for a short period of time that were staying in a six-man tent with their children.

“Their lease had ended and the real estate agent didn’t want to renew the lease for some reason and they hadn’t been able to acquire accommodation since and they ended up sleeping on the beach.”

Ms O’Donoghue said even with a good income and references people are still unable to secure properties.

“I had extremely good references and worked two jobs as a nurse,” she said.

“I am now seeing it on a day-to-day basis on Facebook Cairns Rental page, families and even people who own their own businesses struggling to find a rental here in Cairns.”

What is driving the crisis?

According to the latest Real Estate Industry of Queensland (REIQ) data, rental vacancy rates in Cairns are at an all-time low of 1.2%.

Freeman’s Real Estate Principal Jade Kilpatrick said multiple factors were causing the current circumstances.

“What’s happening is definitely the southerners are moving up and a lot of the owners are asking tenants to vacate properties to sell,” Ms Kilpatrick said.

Ms Kilpatrick said the tide of southerners moving to the region was also making it more competitive to secure a rental with up to 34 applications per property.

She said this was driving people to go to extreme lengths such as offering more rent than is advertised or many months’ rent in advance.

“Many of those have, once again, been southerners because they’re cashed up and they can afford to do it,” she said.

“So, they’ve sold their property in the city to move to Cairns and they try to push in front of the market by offering more money to secure a property.

“I’m also finding a rise in government departments looking.

“At the moment, we have the Housing Department contacting us looking to buy properties to put housing commission tenants in because there’s no rentals available.”

Impacting those most vulnerable

The follow-on effects of the situation are being felt at all levels with crisis accommodation services saying the situation is the worst they have seen.

Shelter Housing Access Cairns are a local not-for-profit that have been helping homeless or those at risk of being homeless find accommodation in the region for thirty years.

They have 30 crisis accommodation houses in Cairns and work to transition families into permanent rentals.

However, Executive Officer Sally Watson said that was not happening at present.

“The idea is that we transition families through those houses in the shortest amount of time so that they can get stability in their lives by finding a proper long-term house.

“The problem we’ve had in recent months and particularly since COVID is that we are experiencing tremendous difficulty moving those people out of those houses and we have many, many more families needing our crisis support.

“That’s because even somebody with a decent income and good rental references can’t get a place and the families we assist really fall into that category.”

Ms Watson said she was regularly in contact with other similar services and they were all experiencing the same problem.

Animal casualties of the rental crisis

Family pets are also casualties of the rental crisis.

Born Free Animal Rescue’s Kirsty Green said they were seeing a significant number of animals being surrendered due to their owners either becoming homeless or not being able to obtain a property.

“We are getting a lot of people who don’t have anywhere to live surrendering animals,” Ms Green said.

“One of our foster carers has two dogs belonging to a young fellow who was homeless because he wasn’t able to find anywhere to live.

“We also had a family that was hanging by the creek at Little Mulgrave because that don’t have anywhere to live and they asked us can someone please take our animals.”

Advice to tenants

Freeman’s Real Estate Principle Jade Kilpatrick said it was hard in such a difficult market to give advice that would make a dramatic impact but had a few small tips.

“Filling out the whole application correctly, it doesn’t seem like a really big deal but it really is,” she said.

“Having a good rental history but also being pleasant to deal with, your first impression counts.

“If you’re being difficult to the person showing the property, you’re turning up late or making demands on them at the beginning it’s not going to look good.

“But get the application filled out and in quickly.”

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