10 May 2023

Cape’s housing shortage contributing to Cairns homelessness rate

| Samuel Davis
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Cairns is also feeling the impact of Cape York’s housing crisis.

CAPE York’s housing crisis is spilling onto the streets of Cairns as welfare services battle to find homes for families living in bush camps.

While remote Indigenous communities contend with chronic overcrowding, those moving to Cairns are plunged into a “critically undersupplied” rental market according to REIQ.

Shelter Housing Action Cairns CEO Sally Watson said low vacancy rates and record client numbers are creating a “crisis housing blockage” in the Far North.

“We’re seeing more people need housing in Cairns than we’ve ever had and that includes people from Cape York,” Ms Watson said.

“In the past, people who can afford rent have rarely come to us.

“Now we’re seeing people who have enough money but can’t get a property and wonder what we can do for them.

“That has a compounding effect for people who’ve always found it hard to get a house.”

SHAC, which manages 28 houses for families in critical need, said the rental squeeze has made it hard to transition clients into public housing or the private rental market.

“So, other families living in cars and tents are not getting housed because we can’t move anyone out,” Ms Watson said.

“At least 20 per cent of our tenants have been with us 18 months now.

“40 per cent have been with us for more than a year. That’s unheard of.”

An influx of Cape residents also puts Cairns-based family members at risk of violating their tenancy agreements, Ms Watson said.

“Landlords have much more choice on who can live in their houses and can end tenancies without giving a reason when the lease ends,” she said.

“So, not only has the person from the Cape got nowhere else to live but neither has their family who have lived in that house (for a period of time).”

Changes to tenancy laws will allow homeowners with granny flats to rent them out to ease the state’s housing crisis.

“Many homeowners have granny flats that they’ve built or converted for family members or teenagers who have since moved out,” Deputy Premier Steven Miles said.

“At the same time some Queenslanders are sleeping in their cars or in tents.

“It just makes sense to allow existing accommodation to be occupied by someone other than a relative to provide more affordable accommodation for Queenslanders.”

But Ms Watson said more needed to be done.

“In tourist towns we’re looking at things like taxing holiday accommodation, including Air BnBs,” she said.

“We really want something like that in this town because we have lost a fair few rentals to Air BnBs.

“A bed tax on hotels has been raised where rather than going back into the tourism industry, it goes toward housing.

“We didn’t think we’d be talking about rent control but we never thought we’d see a rental market like this in Australia. That’s how critical it is.”

The Queensland government will hold a housing summit next month.

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