CV-19 Housing Anxiety Hits Home

Castlemaine Housing Service team leader Michael McMahon. Photo: Eve Lamb

Maintaining housing rental payments amid COVID-19 has become a significant source of anxiety for many in the Castlemaine area.
It’s hoped some of that anxiety may be relieved with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews this week announcing a $500 million package to help landlords and tenants during the coronavirus pandemic.
The package will include $420 million in land tax relief for landlords involved in a mediation process while $80 million will go towards rental assistance for Victorians who meet certain criteria.
Earlier this week local real estate agents and housing and community service providers told the Mail the impacts of the virus on housing pressures has yet to be fully understood locally.
But all said the pandemic and its impacts on household income has become a source of anxiety and uncertainty for many renters – and also for many landlords.
“Mainly with residential tenancy at the moment it’s creating a lot of confusion and anxiety from both ends as to what’s going to be the outcome,” Castlemaine Property Group’s Brett Fitzpatrick said.
“There’s been probably a handful of residential situations at this stage that have sought and needed assistance but the employment structure or the government support seems to be working OK in our immediate area.
“I think that will filter downwards as an impact as time goes on and there’ll be more people needing assistance or searching for some sort of relief as this deepens.
“The commercial front is a different factor. There’s been businesses forced to close.
“Small business also has its concerns about trying to retain staff and those (federal) government packages don’t come out until May so it’s a bit of a carry to get people through till then.
“It’s just the anxiety and unknown about how deep it’s going to go.
“The impact from the residential side I don’t believe has hurt as yet, but I think now that Easter is behind us businesses and employers are trying to weigh up where they’re going and how far they can carry staffing in different forms, and whether they’re allowed to continue trading.
“Small businesses are trying to keep themselves going. It’s an awkward one and all the cases need to be treated individually so we anticipate it will go on for some time.”
Genevieve Cantwell of Cantwell Property Castlemaine made a similar observation: “at this point the major thing that’s affecting people is anxiety and uncertainty,” she said.
“We have had contact from landlords offering support to tenants if necessary.
“There’s a high level of concern out there. We’ve had people let us know that they’ve lost their jobs and that they may be in a situation where they won’t be able to pay their rent.
“But at this point I can’t tell you our arrears have jumped out of control or anything like that.
“We’re just taking a compassionate, co-operative approach and I think once alternative sources of income come through from the governments’ proposed packages that some of that anxiety might disappear to some degree.
“If people are concerned about their situation we’re advocating on their behalf with the landlords but it hasn’t got out of control yet.”
Housing and family services team leader with Castlemaine District Community Health, Michael McMahon says he holds particular concerns about people’s mental health, naming alcohol misuse and domestic violence among issues of specific concern.
“People are really worried about what’s happening next,” he told the Mail this week.
Already, as the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic has begun to impact private income streams, Castlemaine Housing Service has seen some increase in housing enquiry calls, he said.
“There’s been a small increase so far but I predict it’s going to get worse,” Mr McMahon said.
“We’ve had at least a 10 percent increase in the last week which is a big hit for a team that has had to reduce its services.
“And just the fact that we’ve had a couple of enquiries from landlords as well indicates that that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he adds, acknowledging the pressures on those leveraged to buy rental properties and with loans of their own to service.
“It hasn’t really hit home to a lot of people yet,” he said, encouraging tenants, landlords and real estate agents wanting help or advice around tenancy pressures to contact the local service.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen from one day to the next. People are worried.”
Castlemaine Salvation Army Captain Annita Allman also thinks the full extent of the housing stress fallout from COVID-19 will take a while yet to become apparent.
“I think we’ll see a greater impact in a few weeks,” she said
“Where people have been working and there are two people with an income coming in they may have access to some savings but when that dries up and before Centrelink kicks in I think that’s when we’re going to see issues with housing.”

Eve Lamb
Journalist and photographer Eve Lamb has a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) degree from Deakin University and a Master of Arts (Professional Writing) from Deakin University. She has worked for many regional newspapers including the Hamilton Spectator and the Warrnambool Standard, and has also worked for metro daily, The Hobart Mercury, and The Sunday Tasmanian. Eve has also contributed to various magazines including Australian Cyclist.