Wed. Jul 6th, 2022

A Port Hedland mum who says her family has been without a permanent home since July last year has a long wait ahead of her to get into a home after being priced out of the rental market.

Zakeisha, who did not want to give her full name, said her family had mostly been living in a tent on the outskirts of town since then as they applied for rental properties.

“It’s really hard and especially in the Pilbara with the scorching heat,” she said.

The average weekly rental price for a house in the Port Hedland – home to the world’s largest bulk export port – jumped more than 40 per cent in the year to the end of March.

Zekeisha said she applied for public housing after 15 unsuccessful applications for other rentals.

“I started to go to Homes West and see if I can get on the list and tell them my story and hopefully get a place in a faster process, especially for the children,” she said.

“Unfortunately, they told me that my three-year waiting list does not begin until the November of this year.”

Five people squat on the grass near a packed up tent.
Zakeisha’s family has been moving around and living in a tent while they wait for public housing. (Supplied)

More social housing needed

Figures from the Department of Communities show that at the end of March 2021, applicants were waiting an average of 107 weeks to be housed in the Pilbara and an average of 112 weeks state-wide.

Bloodwood Tree Association chief executive Kelly Howlett said her Port Hedland homeless support service had helped find furniture for someone who had been on the wait list for nine years.

“Sadly, it’s the reality and it’s just really unfortunate and really sad that people have to wait so long,” Ms Howlett said.

medium close up of Kelly Howlett's face.  She is sitting in front of a brick wall.
Kelly Howlett says market conditions and commodity prices contribute to a boom in rental prices in the port town every few years.(ABC Pilbara: Karen Michelmore)

Department of Communities representative Steve Andree said factors influencing the wait time included the area, turnover of properties, the type of accommodation required and the number of people on the list.

Zakeisha said it was difficult to face the prospect of another three years in a tent.

Western Australian Council of Social Services chief executive Louise Giolitto said there had not been enough public housing stock for up to 20 years.

“We simply have not been replacing social housing stock at the rate of our population growth,” she said.

“That’s why this commitment of $ 2.1 billion in the last state budget was really, really important, because that’s going to start sort of etching back the shortage of social housing.”

A tight head and shoulders shot of Louise Giolitto speaking outside Parliament House in Perth.
WA Council of Social Services chief executive Louise Giolitto is calling for an increase in commonwealth rental assistance. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)

A Department of Communities spokesperson said the investment would deliver up to 3,300 new properties in WA and refurbishments to thousands of existing properties.

“To March of the financial year, 20 new homes have been added to the social housing stock in the Pilbara, with a further 27 homes either under construction or under contract in the region,” the spokesperson said.

Zakeisha said her family was placed in emergency housing to isolate after contracting COVID in April.

“This is the only way we could get a place to quarantine and this is a domestic violence emergency house,” she said.

She believed the house had been vacant for a long time before their short stay.

She said there was iron ore dust around the house and on the doorknobs.

‘A wicked problem’

There were 164 vacant public housing properties at the end of March of the 1,388 in stock, which equated to more than 11 per cent.

The Department of Communities spokesperson said there would always be a small percentage of homes vacant, including homes in need of maintenance, homes already offered to applicants and awaiting acceptance, and homes allocated and awaiting occupation.

Ms Giolitto said her organization was calling for an increase in commonwealth rent assistance to relieve the number of people needing to access social housing.

“There will always be low-income households,” she said.

“Ultimately these people make up the heart of the community, especially like people in the Pilbara, they’re not fly in fly out.

She said they were the people who could not afford the rent in mining towns.

She said she would also like to see a commonwealth commitment to increase social housing stock.

“It’s a wicked problem that’s going to take years to resolve,” she said.

“We need to be building social housing for years to come because that stock has really dwindled not just in the Pilbara but right across the country.”

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