Modular homes, repurposing empty accommodation such as the Geraldton Camp School or even fixing dilapidated public housing properties themselves — these are some of the desperate solutions put forward at a forum last week by frustrated residents who have found themselves frozen out of the rental market as Geraldton’s housing crisis worsens.
The issue of homelessness was firmly in the spotlight on Friday at a community event, where political leaders and concerned residents met to talk about the city’s accommodation shortage.
In the past year, the city’s vacancy rate has fallen to 1.3 per cent, its priority public housing waiting list has more than tripled, and eviction requests to the courts have doubled.
Acknowledged at the meeting was the hidden number of residents facing various forms of homelessness, including couch surfing, sleeping in vehicles and camping in back yards.
I would happily fix a house up if I was given a place to live. Anything would be better than sleeping in my car.
Member for Geraldton Lara Dalton said a study last year found 40 to 50 people were sleeping rough, but the true number of people experiencing housing instability was unknown.
She promised residents she would be pushing “very hard” to get up to 60 Homeswest homes, presently out of commission, open as soon as possible.
Ms Dalton said the stories were heartbreaking and addressing the pain felt by residents would be a priority for her.
“Since I became the member for Geraldton, this is the biggest issue that comes through my door,” she said.
“There is a huge amount of funding towards the social housing situation, the money is there. It’s just about getting it out on the ground and getting the stock back into commission.
“We’re doing the best we can to try and alleviate this situation.”
She said Housing Minister John Carey had instructed the Department of Communities to look at all possible solutions to the crisis including temporary housing.
Non-profit service providers at the meeting spoke about the conditions which had created the crisis. “Our observations show over the past year, rents have gone up 20 to 25 per cent,” Regional Alliance West representative Chris Gabelish said.
“We’ve got more and more people approaching us but if there aren’t any houses available, no support program is going to help.”
City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said the housing shortage was caused by Geraldton’s growing population and investors looking to sell property while the market was hot.
“There are houses coming but the issue is they’re not coming fast enough for people who are homeless now,” he said.
“We’re approving 40 building applications a month, which is a record for the City.”
He said the Salvation Army had started handing out tents to locals with nowhere else to go and people were being forced to camp behind caravan parks.
“I’ve spoken to doctors that can’t get houses in Geraldton, this is an issue that transcends disadvantaged people and can affect everyone,” he said.
Desperate locals at the meeting put forward suggestions including repurposing accommodation such as the Geraldton Camp School into temporary housing and building modular housing similar to the trial in Bunbury on State-owned land.
One woman asked why about 50 Homeswest houses, boarded up and labelled uninhabitable, could not be offered to people experiencing homelessness.
“I would happily fix a house up if I was given a place to live,” she said. “Anything would be better than sleeping in my car.”
Some attendees shared stories about the pain of continual knockbacks when applying for rentals.
One woman said she had applied for 78 houses since becoming homeless in October and had been knocked back every time.
“I’ve given up so much and I still have nowhere to call home,” she said. “I’m on the verge of giving up.”
Amanda Melrose, who runs Facebook group Rental Crisis Geraldton WA, organised the forum after seeing hundreds of members share their stories of distress and feelings of helplessness.
“The other night , I just sat at the beach and cried,” she said.
“Come Monday, my two girls and I will be homeless ... we’ve been forced out of our home for the past five and a half years and there’s nothing out there.”
Shadow housing minister Steve Martin said the pain of housing shortages was being felt across regional WA and residents need to make sure their voices were heard in Perth.
“There are actually less Government-owned homes than there were four and a half years ago,” he said.
“This hasn’t snuck up on anyone. The Government have been aware there’s a housing issue, and I think they have the resources to fix it. We heard it quite clearly today. They need a response from the Government ... they simply want to know what they’ll do right now.”