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Calls for better government assistance amid booming rental market

Leading housing experts have called for a major overhaul of the government’s rent assistance program, describing the payments to low-income households as “inadequate” while rental costs continue to skyrocket.

An analysis of the scheme by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) also found households which were not in rental stress were still receiving payments, while people living in hugely expensive areas were not getting enough.

AHURI managing director Michael Fotheringham said the key issue with the government’s rental assistance was that the payments rose with overall inflation and were not directly linked to rising rental costs or geographic rental trends.

“One of the challenges is that it is not targeted to renters in any way,” Mr Fotheringham said.

“Someone in inner-Sydney has the same amount [of support] as someone in Hobart or Perth.”

His analysis of the system found that the new government could save money if it targeted low-income households in areas where rents had risen significantly.

“Some of the households receiving it are not in rental stress. They are relatively low income but paying relatively low rent as well,” he said.

‘I had nowhere else to go’

A woman wearing a blue jacket.
Andrea Ferris says she gets $47 a fortnight in rental assistance.(ABC News: Eddy Gill)

Single mother Andrea Ferris said rent assistance “barely covers milk and bread” for the week and she was barely able to survive as rents increased.

Rents in Ms Ferris’s hometown, the Gold Coast, have increased 21 per cent in the past year.

With vacancies across the country at record lows, she was forced to settle for a three-bedroom house well out of her budget.

“I had nowhere else to go. It was looking pretty scary, I was looking at moving into a friend’s room with the kids,” she said.

“We came three weeks from homelessness.

“I don’t buy fruit and vegetables. The doctor said my iron is low and asked me if I eat red meat and I said, ‘I don’t. I can’t afford it.'”

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