Urban Planning Professor Nicole Gurran in her office at the University of Sydney (Photo Vanessa Lim)

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BY VANESSA LIM

Rental stress has hit Waverley, with 18% of local tenants now paying more than 30% of their income on rent.

University of Sydney Professor Nicole Gurran, who is the co-author of the Informal Housing and Vulnerable Households report, explained that gentrification in Waverley has played a key role in why housing has become so unaffordable.

Professor Gurran said, “Waverley Council traditionally has been an area for lower cost rental housing, boarding housing and lower cost rental flats”.

Though Waverley used to have cheaper housing options, George Bramis, Executive Manager of Urban Planning, Policy and Strategy at Waverley Council, pointed out that Waverley was now one of the least affordable.

Waverley Affordable Housing

In an attempt to combat the unaffordable housing situation, Waverley Council has presented policies to help ease the housing affordability burden for locals.

“As a council, we have been on the forefront of trying to come up with policy and implementing policy to improve the affordability issue in the last 20 years. It’s a big issue for us,” George Bramis said.

The Waverley Affordable Housing Program and Tenancy Policy in particular targeted renting locals of Waverley.

“One of the issues we found with unaffordable housing prices is that a lot of people who are renting have quite a few connections to Waverley,” George Bramis said. “They are struggling to afford rising rent prices. That displacement tends to be quite damaging to not only the individuals involved, but the community in general.”

George Bramis listed initiatives council had taken to ease the housing burden.

“We have a portfolio of property that can be used for the purposes of affordable housing. We also have a fund which has generated money that we use to purchase more property,” George Bramis said.

Waverley’s low-cost housing, such as boarding houses and social housing, used to provide locals on low income with much-needed accommodation.

Despite this, there has been a 9.5% decrease in social housing at Waverley from 2011 to 2016.

“Lower cost rental housing provided a lot of important rental accommodation for people on low income who have particular ties to the city, as well as providing the need generated by nearby universities for lower cost accommodation,” Nicole Gurran said.

“But I think we’ve got 60,000 people who are now on the waiting list in NSW,” Leo Patterson, Senior Policy Officer at Tenants Union of NSW, said.

Mr Patterson agreed that social housing was lacking for those on low income.

“We have a social housing situation struggling to protect the people on the lower end of the income scale, but it is so small and hard to get into. It’s not providing the protection people really need,” Mr Patterson said.

In Australia, the competitive housing market has also had negative impacts on the tenants’ housing options.

“It is a competitive market so people are trying to out-compete other tenants to find a home when they are moving. It can work quite well and feel quite easy for people with a lot of money and resources, but it can feel very difficult for people at the lower end who get pushed into increasingly worse situations,” Mr Patterson said.

“Even if you are someone with a little bit more money or a little bit more resources, it only takes one other person to beat you in any kind of particular application to get that property.”

Due to the nature of the housing market, and the lack of social housing, people are often left with few options.

“Rates of housing unaffordability are even higher than the city average. The rental affordability pressure is extreme in Waverley,” said Professor Gurran.

“A good proportion of Waverley will be in home ownership, but there are very high levels of rental stress amongst tenants in Waverley.”

Informal housing hazardous

In some cases, when resources aren’t enough, types of informal housing arrangements are the cheaper alternative.

Though informal housing is often cheaper, exploitation, for example, in contract fees or conditions, can have a negative impact on the tenant.

The physical properties of informal housing often can be hazardous too.

“Unlawful housing is often overcrowded and that can cause health risks such as being exposed to other people’s illnesses. It can also cause stress and may affect your mental health,” Mr Patterson said.

Professor Gurran noted that extreme overcrowding in particular made up about half the homelessness in Waverley.

“These are things that aren’t visible but they are definitely risk factors within the city areas. We are not saying that Waverley has any more of a risk than say Sydney, for instance, but it’s just an example of a local government area to look at,” Professor Gurran said.