Sarah with her dog.

The housing crisis: Time is running out for one Geraldton family

Main Image: Sarah with her dog. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

Lisa FavazzoGeraldton Guardian

Geraldton’s “priority” public housing waiting list has more than tripled — surging from 28 to 89 since the COVID-19 pandemic hit — with the end of a moratorium on evictions and rent rises only adding fuel to the fire.

Investment and activity in the housing market are looking healthier than they have in years but, underneath this prosperity, Geraldton’s most vulnerable are feeling the pinch even more.

The pitiful rental vacancy rate is sparking fierce competition between renters and leaving the City’s most disadvantaged clutching at straws. Landlords and tenants are taking their disputes to court, with the number of applications for eviction doubling.

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Geraldton woman Sarah*, who cares for her three grandchildren who have experienced untold trauma and abuse in their young lives, is one of many desperate examples of those suffering in a system under immense strain.

All three children are registered with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, with neurodiversity ranging from autism to anorexia to complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

A seizure recently put Sarah in hospital, and other health complications mean she walks with a cane and struggles with her speech.

Sarah with her two grandchildren weeks before they are due to be evicted from there home.
Camera IconSarah with her two grandchildren weeks before they are due to be evicted from there home. Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian

Sarah and her family spent a year living in emergency accommodation while on the public housing waiting list before finding her current private rental.

Her landlord wants to sell the house and has given her four weeks to move out. Sarah said the landlord wanted to run home opens free of the family’s clutter.

The exact number of people displaced in this way is unknown, but 24 eviction applications were put to Geraldton courts between March 28 and May 31 this year, compared with just 10 in the same period last year.

It’s likely many more people are facing eviction and not taking the case to court. Sarah is facing homelessness and the possibility of losing custody of her grandchildren, but fear holds her back from taking her landlord to court.

I know people who have done it, but it looks bad on other applications. I don’t want to cause a fuss because I want to get a house,

said Sarah.

The community service professionals around her are taking her to home opens and searching for emergency accommodation.

“There’s so many people going for houses. It’s really hard to find one,” she said.

“That’s why I thought I was lucky to get this one.”

Geraldton’s rental vacancy rate hit a low of one per cent in January. It has now edged back up to 1.3 per cent, where it has remained since March.

According to the Real Estate Institute of WA, a balanced market has a 3.5 per cent vacancy rate.

Struggling to find appropriate housing, Sarah and her family were put back on the public housing waiting list, with the case considered a “priority”.

“I was on it before but the lady said it was a 10 years on the long list and about three to four for the priority list,” she said.

The Department of Communities reports Geraldton waiting periods are around 99 weeks for regular applications and 29 weeks for priority-listed people.

In March 2020, the department reported 28 people on the priority public house waiting list and 574 on the general list.

This March, those numbers had jumped to 78 and 668. In the two months between the moratorium’s end on March 28 and May 31, 22 Geraldton residents were added, with another 11 moved to priority. Even if the department’s figures are accurate, 29 weeks is still too long for Sarah and her family.

“I just hope that we get something soon. That’s all,” she said.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with the kids if we don’t.

“I don’t want to separate them.”

If you have any leads on accommodation for Sarah, contact the Geraldton Guardian.

*Sarah’s name has been changed to protect the family’s identity.