Government needs to freeze rent and mortgages

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‘I’m so worried. I have no idea how I am going to survive without help from my parents,’ laments Fiona Gu. She is an international student who graduated from Monash and was looking to begin work as a casual relief teacher (CRT) in Melbourne this year. She is afraid of what the future holds.

People lining outside Centrelink in Melbourne (Getty Images/Quinn Rooney)

Because Gu is not a citizen or a permanent resident. As a temporary resident, she cannot apply for financial relief.

There are many more like her, workers who have moved here from another country in order to fill the positions we were in desperate need of just a few weeks ago. (CRTs make up 12 per cent of the teaching force). Now they are left to flounder in the new world order, in a country with no safety net for them. 

Even those who are eligible to access relief express worry. Jamie (not her real name) is a full-time tutor who works from home. She worries that she might not be able to get relief quickly enough if she cannot show that her shifts have significantly declined. This is difficult for precarious, freelance workers like herself. Forcing people to apply for relief through Centrelink, an organisation that has long come under fire for its inefficiency and apathy, is setting up people for failure.

The long queues outside Centrelink and the crashes on the website have fuelled the fears of many people, including myself, that one wrong sentence in the application means we will be denied relief, or worse, that even if we are eligible, the money could take weeks to come in, way past the point of financial solvency.

Mortgages and rents have not stopped. Commonwealth Bank, the bank under which I have my house loan, has ‘kindly’ allowed us to defer repayments for up to six months — but interest will keep piling up. This means that any gains homeowners have made in paying off loans will be negated as a piling interest means a growing home loan, all of which will lead to even further financial stress when things go back to normal, whenever that is, whatever that looks like. Other banks offer similar 'help.' Help that is meant to protect their bottom line and transfer the risks of the crisis entirely onto us.

 

'By refusing to freeze rents and mortgages, the Australian government is risking a fractious and contentious strike as people simply cannot make their rent and mortgage payments in April, even if they have access to relief, because it might not come in time, or might not be enough.'

 

The situation seemed more dire for renters, right up until a few days ago. Before then, only New South Wales and Tasmania had put in place eviction moratoriums, and even that, only for four months. However, experts predict this crisis will last a lot longer than that. At first, Morrison had fobbed off the job to states, and called on landlords to 'make sacrifices,' but has since then done a turnabout and passed a nation-wide moratorium on evictions for six months. This will do much to allay the fears of renters all over the country.

Still, that is not enough. A nation-wide freeze on rent and mortgage needs to follow the latest moratorium on evictions. The Morrison government’s first stimulus package was insufficientprompting the introduction of the second one. Just yesterday the third stimulus package was announced, which goes much further in keeping people employed. It even allows for Kiwis to access coronavirus relief.

Which is all very well and good but what about people who still need to pay their rent or mortgage?

Italy has suspended rent, mortgage and even utility bills for the duration of the pandemic. As of March 23rd, Venezuela only had 77 coronavirus cases, much lower than our current count of 4,359. Yet, it immediately took steps for the future, suspending all rent payments for a full six months

There is a petition that calls for similar measures to be enacted in Australia, and it has been signed by close to half a million people. The Australian government needs to listen to its people in this time of great uncertainty.

The alternative could be an organised rent strike, which is precisely what is happening in the United States. On April 1st, the day rent is due for many people all over the country, a general strike has been called for by Rent Strike 2020, an activist organisation promoting rent strikes during the pandemic. Toronto and Ottawa are facing their own looming rent strikes. All over the world, major cities are seeing unprecedented organising by people using social media to call for large-scale rent strikes.

By refusing to freeze rents and mortgages, the Australian government is risking a fractious and contentious strike as people simply cannot make their rent and mortgage payments in April, even if they have access to relief, because it might not come in time, or might not be enough.

Let the banks suffer for once instead of the people. It is the smartest decision, for the economy and for the possibilities of a post-pandemic future.

 

 

Sangeetha Thanapal is a writer and social media activist engaged in anti-racism work in Singapore and Australia. She is the originator of the term 'Chinese Privilege', which situates institutionalised racism in Singapore. She can be found at @kaliandkalki

Main image: People lining outside Centrelink in Melbourne (Getty Images/Quinn Rooney)

Topic tags: Sangeetha Thanapal, COVID-19, auspol

 

 

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Existing comments

Thankyou Sangeetha, I have emailed PM and my Premier 2 weeks ago to ask for a lockdown and spend $$$ on testing to contain this virus quickly . We have moved too slowly and have little time .. this is a health crisis first, if we fix that we can get the economy back more easily. I am a nurse and frustrated about the lack of concern for all on the frontline . Doctor Norman Swan describes it as being at the Somme.. thousands fighting without testing and protective equipment.. BORDERS WERE NOT. SHUTDOWN early .. this is what is costing our economy and banks and taxpayers will be paying the price for this lack of leadership and consultation with many medical experts . This is the root cause of now keeping the economy on hold ..much more than ten fold losses-people will suffer much more in every way .. instead of spending $$ testing early. We had China Italy Spain France Korea ahead of us but we thought we knew better??? This is madness and politicians will have to support the nation to pay the price - I feel they are just planning for a slow collapse .
Catherine | 31 March 2020


My mother is 89 years old. She represents the other side of this proposal. After a frugal way of life for many decades, she put her money into housing. Her entire income comes from rent, so she is quite agitated as she hears talk of a rent strike. She is not eligible for a Centrelink pension because of her rental property; but if she sold it to survive, the tenants would have to go anyway. The complexity of life in an interwoven society means that, whatever happens, people will be in pain.
Anne | 31 March 2020


I'm a real estate agent and employ 20 people. With a rent freeze, I'd have no income and no way to pay my staff who'd all lose their job. Who, then responds to tenants needs of repairing the hot water service, letting them in when they lock themselves out, helping those who are victims of DV? No one, because they're unemployed.
Hayden | 31 March 2020


I wonder if Mafia henchmen qualify for the new Jobkeeper payments? I could hope employers with dodgy businesses and tax payments are keen to register with the ATO but am less naive. imagine the anxiety for workers unceremoniously sacked a few weeks ago to go back cap-in-hand to their previous employer who may choose not to register. Give some thought to citizens condemned to suspended animation on Centrelink Newstart Jobseeker, they'll continue to receive the same obstructions to payments and services on half the Jobkeeper allowance (if they can put in a claim). Jobseekers are still required to apply for 20 non-jobs per month. Certain essential services now need more staff; the government and unions are taking steps to ensure Qantas employees fill the supermarket jobs rather than the already long term unemployed. This seems to be far from the concept of "equal opportunity employer" and any "Newstart" is re-scheduled on a very distant horizon. Banks will suffer if mortgages default en-masse and the Mortgagee auctions fail to recover the debt. We're all suffering...even football players on the half-salary wondering how they'll pay the lease on the Ferrari they can't drive to practice.
ray | 31 March 2020


"Let the banks suffer for once, instead of the people" - sounds good but also sounds like class warfare rhetoric. There is a sound point underlying this article, but more thought needs to be given to it. Is the Federal Govt really "refusing" to freeze rents, or has it simply not done so because it lacks power to do it? Does it need special legislation? If so, how can parliament be convened in present circumstances? What powers lie with the States rather than the Commonwealth? Whose rents and mortgages should they freeze? - all of them, when there will be quite a number of citizens who will still be able to pay? And what does "freeze" mean? Does it mean simply a rent or mortgage payment "holiday" for a period- in which case the debt still builds up. does it even mean waiving payments altogether for a period? Or might it mean temporary waiving of payments for a period then extending the period of a mortgage by the same duration? You think four months is miserable- then what period should it be in a time of greatly uncertain duration of the crisis? The period could be extended later if needed.
Dennis | 01 April 2020


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