Australian Street Aid Project founder Kayleigh Brewster. Picture: Melanie Whiting
Australian Street Aid Project founder Kayleigh Brewster. Picture: Melanie Whiting

Tale of two cities: Housing shortage reaches crisis point

Mackay is in the epicentre of a perfect storm in the housing market as soaring rents and a lack of accommodation options threaten our most vulnerable.

The city's rental vacancy rate remains ultra-low at less than 1 per cent and local service providers say the lack of social housing in the region has hit a crisis point.

Australian Street Aid Project founder Kayleigh Brewster said this was only deepening the divide between Mackay's high income earners and those in a low socio-economic situation.

Mackay's housing crisis could be best described as a tale of two cities.

Those employed in mining and other businesses linked to the industry are willing to pay top dollar to secure the best rentals available - while single parents, battlers and those with disabilities are finding it harder than ever to keep up.

"There definitely is quite a big divide between our region's top earners and the lower socio-economic group and I think it makes the struggle for the lower socio-economic group all the more real," Ms Brewster said.

"The mines themselves do a lot for our region and we need them, but then again we also need to cater to those people who, for whatever reason whether it be mental health or intellectual disability, are not capable of those jobs.

"We need to make sure they have a roof over their head too."

Australian Street Aid fills any gap left by Mackay service providers in finding accommodation for the homeless and those in crisis.

"When other services aren't able to help for whatever reason or when other services are at capacity, that's when we will step in and provide a short-term solution for people," Ms Brewster said.

"Our main focus is getting people a roof over their head so that they're not living on the streets and giving them a little relief for a couple of days so they can then work out a longer term strategy."

Mackay’s housing crisis could be best described as a tale of two cities. Picture: Cade Mooney / Sunshine Coast Daily
Mackay’s housing crisis could be best described as a tale of two cities. Picture: Cade Mooney / Sunshine Coast Daily

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Mackay women who are not experiencing domestic violence and former New Zealand residents who are ineligible for government support are increasingly seeking out the services of Australian Street Aid.

Ms Brewster said single men, families and women were common as well.

She said other service providers in the region - whether government or community-based - were doing the best they could, however the demand for housing is too high.

"More social housing and more department housing is definitely needed; we've got a long waitlist," Ms Brewster said.

"There doesn't seem to be much movement in the social and department housing residences.

"Providing people in those houses with better strategies to get themselves into work and into their own private accommodation will help increase the turnover and allow more people in need to go through.

"But it's not always that simple. There's a range of barriers that stop people from getting work."

Mackay's Community Accommodation and Support Agency manager Lorraine Wirth said the region's lack of housing options had reached a "crisis point".

In the 11 months to January 23 - 199 men, 253 women and 348 children received assistance or requested accommodation through CASA.

On top of that, in December alone CASA's outreach support worker helped another 121 people sleeping rough throughout Mackay.

Ms Wirth said these figures were up significantly on previous years.

"It all adds up to a lot of people being homeless," she said.

"I have spoken to people who do the intake - what they found is there are issues of mental health, domestic violence, family breakdowns.

"Also the rents have increased, so there's a lack of affordability for people on low incomes - they just can't afford rents anymore.

"But most importantly is the lack of affordable housing, there's just no stock. It's pretty sad."

Community Accommodation and Support Agency manager Lorraine Wirth.
Community Accommodation and Support Agency manager Lorraine Wirth.

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Ms Wirth said more social housing was needed, but it was a complex issue.

"It's a catch-22 because, if for instance the department of housing gives us more stock to manage, they might acquire it from their stock or the private rental stock," she said.

"Which means there is less in that market as well."

A Department of Housing spokeswoman said 60 new social homes would be built in Central Queensland by 2020 through the Housing Construction Jobs Program.

"To date, contracts have been awarded for the commencement of 16 new social housing homes in this region, six of which have already been completed," the spokeswoman said.

"A further four new social housing homes are forecast to have contracts awarded by June 2021."

The spokeswoman said the recently launched Works For Tradies initiative would result in the commencement of another 20 homes across the Mackay Whitsundays region by the end of the year.

"To date contracts have been awarded for the commencement of three new social housing homes in the Mackay LGA with a further 11 forecast to have contracts awarded by June 2021," she said.

"In the 2020-21 financial year as at January 31, 2021, the Mackay Housing Service Centre has provided 265 bond loans and 100 rental grants to help people secure a rental home in the region."

Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert said the Federal Government also needed to chip in.

"(The Federal Government) consistently refuse to invest in affordable housing solutions, and have stepped away from the National Rental Affordability Scheme," Mrs Gilbert said.

"Queensland's vacancies rates require more investment and support from them." 

Have you been impacted by this issue? Email: melanie.whiting@news.com.au to share your story

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