Northern Tasmanian housing demand mapped: why it's so hard to find a decent place to live

Kaitlyn Lee-Lincoln and Kain Capodici, with Sophia, 3, and Ava Capodici, 18 months, at their Community Housing premises in Rocherlea where they struggle to make ends meet. Picture: Craig George
Kaitlyn Lee-Lincoln and Kain Capodici, with Sophia, 3, and Ava Capodici, 18 months, at their Community Housing premises in Rocherlea where they struggle to make ends meet. Picture: Craig George

Just getting by is a week-to-week proposition for couple Kain Capodici and Kaitlyn Lee-Lincoln, and their children.

His fortnightly pay comes in on Sunday, and because Ms Lee-Lincoln is not listed on the lease - although her income is calculated into their Community Housing rent charge - he will have the full $531 taken out automatically, leaving him with just $43.

Then it will be a two-day wait until Ms Lee-Lincoln is paid, and they use her funds to stock up on groceries and expenses for the children. There's little left over to save for a car, and they have just one family outing per fortnight down to Mowbray, from their home at Rocherlea in Launceston, Tasmania.

It's a state of affairs they will confront from mid-August when the rent goes up by $208 a fortnight due to Ms Lee-Lincoln's income being added, but they say they already struggled to make ends meet.

Mr Capodici - who applies for 15 jobs a fortnight, mostly gardening work, to keep getting Centrelink payments - said there was little left over when living in social housing.

"I was homeless before when I first started looking for a house. [Social] Housing always used to be cheap for people who have been on Centrelink incomes, but it doesn't seem like that anymore," he said.

"All of my kids are under 6. I worry about what it'll jump up to when they reach 16. Or if they move out of home and get their own home. This is only going to jump up more and more."

MAPPED: Housing Connect applications by Launceston suburb, and Northern Tasmanian council areas (March, 2021):

Note: red = more than 100, orange = 50-100, yellow = 25-50, light yellow = 10-25, no colour = less than 10

Social housing tenants are automatically charged 25 per cent of payments like JobSeeker, Parenting Payment and child support for rent.

Their entire Rent Assistance is also paid to the housing manager - Community Housing - to be placed in an overall pool of funding for maintenance, repairs and vacant property preparation.

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Ms Lee-Lincoln said they felt repairs and maintenance took longer than necessary, and they remained dissatisfied with the condition of their bathroom and kitchen, but CHL Tasmania manager Oscar Norton defended the organisation's responses.

"From the maintenance history this tenant is making full use of 24/7 contact centre and is getting timely responses to necessary maintenance," he said.

"While there was some delays stemming due to COVID-19 last winter we have reviewed all service requests and addressed them."

The family say making ends meet - even while living in social housing - is a week-to-week struggle. Picture: Craig George

The family say making ends meet - even while living in social housing - is a week-to-week struggle. Picture: Craig George

While almost $15,000 was spent on "vacant works" on the property before July 2019 - when the couple moved in - and an estimated $13,000 since, there was one thing that they, and many other social housing tenants, confronted when moving in to a new premises: a lack of curtains or blinds.

When minimum standards for rental properties were introduced in 2013 under a previous government, the requirement for window furnishings was not applied to social housing tenants. It's a right that's afforded to private tenants, however.

It means social housing tenants either improvise with bed sheets or posters covering windows, or pay for curtains out-of-pocket. Ms Lee-Lincoln said they bought some from Shiploads and were lucky to have a relative able to install them, but others were not so fortunate.

Tenants' Union Tasmania principal solicitor Ben Bartl said it was unfair to expect those already facing disadvantage to have the added cost of curtains and blinds.

Repairs funding 'work around'

The use of Commonwealth Rent Assistance for social housing maintenance has long been a complaint of the Tenants' Union of Tasmania, who believe governments should instead provide direct funding to cover it, thus easing rental pressure on tenants.

The Tasmanian Government transferred much of its housing stock from Housing Tasmania to community providers - like CHL - about a decade ago, as public housing tenants do not qualify for Rent Assistance, whereas social tenants do, allowing the extra money to be scooped up for maintenance funding.

Mr Bartl said examples of social housing in relatively poor condition - such as mould remediation issues - were not uncommon, and all social tenants should be able to expect that the amount of Rent Assistance they are entitled to is entirely being spent on maintenance.

"But what we really need is the state and federal governments to stump up the funding to bring social housing properties to a good standard. It shouldn't be the case for those least able to afford it, to effectively be responsible for paying for the upkeep," he said.

"Because the government is not prepared to invest in improving the quality of the properties, the band-aid solution is to hand over management to community housing, they'll get 25 per cent of the tenant's income, and then 100 per cent of the Rent Assistance, about $140 a fortnight."

Mr Norton said that, without Rent Assistance funds, properties would not be able to be maintained.

"When taking into consideration only the tenant contribution towards the rent, the portfolio in the northern suburbs of Launceston is not able to carry its own costs, due the age of the properties, the wear and tear, property taxes, covering all water related charges on behalf of tenants," he said.

"Private landlords incorporate these costs, along with all other expenses into the tenant's rent."

A government spokesperson said the current arrangement helped to cover maintenance and rates costs.

A tight market getting tighter

The number of applicants on Tasmania's priority housing register pushed above 4000 in March, a steady increase from 3400 about a year earlier.

Housing Connect data for March 31, released by the Department of Communities Tasmania, also demonstrated the scale of housing need across Launceston and Northern Tasmania.

In the City of Launceston, there were 406 applications for a one-bedroom house, 191 for two-bedroom, 91 for three-bedroom and 48 for four-bedroom or above. Of those, at least 85 were applications for a house in Kings Meadows, 54 in Mowbray, 40 in Invermay, 38 in Newnham, 34 in Prospect and 26 in Newstead.

Individual Housing Connect applicants can list as many preferred suburbs as they like.

There were also at least 59 applications in West Tamar Council, 53 in George Town Council, 49 in Meander Valley and 40 in Northern Midlands.

The Tenants' Union - along with other advocacy groups like Shelter Tas - have urged the government to increase its ambition in public and social housing construction. Mr Bartl said the current level of need meant tenants who were unhappy with their living arrangements had no choice but to just cope.

"Ensuring that social housing is built in and around our inner cities is imperative if we are to provide everyone with the same opportunities to access basic services including public transport, health services and educational institutions," he said.

"We also need to ensure that there is enough social housing for everyone who is financially or socially disadvantaged."

The government brought in the Housing Land Supply Act in 2018, allowing it to fast-track the rezoning of government-owned land for housing. Since then, only a site on George Town Road in Newnham has been rezoned in Launceston, with the design process under way.

A government spokesperson said housing land supply orders were planned to be used for "two high yield sites in the Launceston area", in addition to George Town Road.

They defended their record on public and affordable housing construction.

"This means that we will build an extra 2,000 new homes by 2027, on top of the 1,500 already being built until July 2023, bringing the total to 3,500 new homes by 2027 to help our most vulnerable," the spokesperson said.

This story Housing demand mapped: why it's so hard to find a decent home first appeared on The Examiner.