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We should never lose our homes in an emergency

  • 23 April 2020
In times of crisis, home is the safest place to be. The nature of the COVID-19 crisis in particular means that to keep ourselves and our communities safe, we must stay at home. The UN Special Rapporteur for Housing says our homes have become the ‘front line defence against the coronavirus’.

But as up to a million jobs disappear and the people who worked them struggle to access Centrelink in person or online, our homes suddenly don’t seem so safe. A third of private renters are already in housing stress and 30 per cent don’t have $500 in savings. For many, the next rent payment is past due, their landlords won’t negotiate, and there’s a sense of panic in the air.

Governments have been unable to avoid enacting measures to support people to keep their homes. In Australia, following pressure from a from a community coalition led by tenants’ unions and homelessness organisations, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that states and territories will be imposing a six-month moratorium on evictions of tenants impacted by COVID-19. A number of states, cities, and counties in the United States led by mayors and governors from both major parties had already suspended evictions, as had the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

So it would seem that many of us, on all sides of politics, agree that evicting someone from their home because an emergency circumstance beyond their control has affected their ability to pay their rent on time is morally questionable at best. And yet, before COVID-19, this was something we allowed to happen all the time.

We have an epidemic of evictions in Australia. ‘Housing crisis‘ — which includes events like evictions and sudden rent increases causing rental arrears — is the third most common cause of homelessness in Victoria and the fastest growing cause of homelessness nationwide, rising 32 per cent between 2015 and 2017.

Tens of thousands of eviction applications are made by landlords every year, and the vast majority of these are not for damage, nuisance, or use for illegal purpose, but for simple rental arrears. In 2017-18 in Victoria and New South Wales alone, landlords applied to evict 47,962 households. 37,772 — nearly 80 per cent — of those eviction applications were lodged because the household had fallen behind on their rent.


'If we agree that no one should lose their home when a global health crisis has cut their