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Charities bracing for influx as mortgage cliff nears

More people are “living in cars” as higher rents and the fixed-mortgage ‘cliff’ approaches, charities have told a Senate hearing.

Queensland homelessness charities have painted a grim picture of the increase in Australians needing shelter and financial assistance to the Senate committee on Friday (3 February).

In the current rising rate environment, spokespeople from Q Shelter, Communify and Better Renting delivered an eye-opening assessment of how people are being impacted from their ‘at the coalface’ perspective.

The senate committee outlined that it had been made aware of “the fiscal cliff” that is approaching in the middle of this year, when those people that already are in housing are potentially facing a switch from fixed rate mortgages to variable rate mortgages.


The committee estimated that these variable rate mortgages now “may be very difficult for many people to service”.

The question was put to the various charities whether they had taken into account the extra “demand for your services in the very near future”.

“We deliver emergency relief and traditionally there’s been a group of people that would access our services, [but] we’re really seeing a much broader population group that are coming in — to help have their electricity bills paid, car registration [paid],” said Communify chief executive Karen Dare.

“We have food pantries as well as provide food security.

“And once again, there’s a cohort that use those regularly, [but] we’re really seeing a whole new group of people who are coming in saying ‘I pay the mortgage and I’ve got no food for my kids.

“So I think we really are going to have to invest in support on the ground for people.”

When the Senate committee outlined that charity Foodbank had told it that “double income is no longer a shield to the cost of living rises” and asked if that was a fair assessment, Ms Dare agreed “absolutely”.

People living in cars

Ms Dare was asked how her charity was able to cater for so many people seeking help and what solutions could be offered to help address the issue.

“We use SecondBite and OZHarvest. We have a cluster of churches that [collect] gifts [donations] and we have donations just from the community — and we’ve seen more of that,” she said.

“Weve had more sort of dollars coming in just from community members and volunteers.”

In terms of staff, Communify has paid social workers, but “we have volunteers that help run our food pantry” and the organisation was delivering 300 per cent over what they usually do.

“Our staff are just working around the clock!” she described.

“The [Queensland] state government did really increase the brokerage dollars significantly for families, so at any one time we’ve got 40–50 families in hotels.”

Ms Dare explained that with the state government stepping up with additional ‘brokerage’ commitments across a whole range of organisations, the charity can help “pay rent arrears” and so it can “put people in hotels.”

The aid provided has to be housing related, but she said: “Basically, we’ve got lots of families, people living in cars.

“We see [help] 40 people a day, new people a day.”

Addressing homelessness and housing affordability

Queensland Shelter (Q Shelter) is a peak body working to ensure every Queenslander has a home, explained executive director Ms Fiona Caniglia.

“There's been a reducing level of home ownership and an increasing reliance on the private rental market,” she explained.

“And because of the rising rental costs and the reduction in available vacancies, poor rent controls mean that people in the private rental market … [there’s] an increasing number of people [who] are very vulnerable to rent increases that they can't control… especially in the context of the current market.

“Vacancy rates around Queensland are sub 1 per cent and that means the competition for rentals is really fierce - and there’s not enough homes to meet the needs of the population in general.”

[Related: $350bn fixed loan credit ‘rolling off’ to variable: RBA]

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