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Rising prices, rental market racism creating a 'path to homelessness' for Aboriginal people

Giovanni Torre -

Racism in the private rental market is creating a "path to homelessness" for Aboriginal people, a leading Aboriginal community organisation has warned.

Moorditj Koort Aboriginal Corporation board secretariat officer Robyn Withnell told the inquiry into the financial administration of homelessness services in Western Australia a new group of homeless people was being created by racism and the tightening rental market.

"A group of Aboriginal employed people who were successfully renting in private accommodation and had been doing so for many years, Ms Withnell said.

"But with so many landlords deciding to sell or put their rents up massively... now we have a new group of homeless people.

"They have been told to vacate the property, so they go and attend maybe 30 or 40 home opens to try to find secure new accommodation and they just get completely rejected."

Moorditj Koort's submission backs experiences raised by Aboriginal renters across the country, who often find themselves seen unfavourably by agents and landlords.

Ms Withnell said this "racism" was causing substantial problems for Aboriginal people.

"Even if those Aboriginal people have been renting successfully, have fabulous property reports and references from their previous landlords, it's not making any difference," she said.

"That path to homelessness means they may have to go live with their mother and father or an aunt or uncle, it disrupts the children, they may end up couch surfing.

"They might be in Wanneroo one night, then outstay their welcome or the Department of Housing says you can't have that many people living in a home, and the next night they might be down in Medina or Kwinana, the kids can't go to school, they drop out of the system.

"It may affect the work arrangements of the parents, and if the kids are not going to school what do they do with the children? It is a massive problem."

Ms Withnell said more social housing was needed to address the issue.

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WA Greens Member for South Metropolitan Brad Pettit said the investigation had made clear racism was ingrained in the housing market.

"Lack of social housing means that many people are turning to the private rental market to avoid homelessness," he said.

"Discrimination in WA's rental market means that First Nations families, especially those with kids, will almost never secure a home over a non-First Nations family.

"These families who are otherwise doing extremely well and often have years-long histories of successful tenancies find themselves forced into homelessness."

In April WA Housing Minister John Carey announced nine community housing organisations and local governments would share in nearly $39 million worth of grants to deliver more than 170 new social housing properties in the state.

The grants are being provided through the Department of Communities' Social Housing Economic Recovery Package, a $319 million housing stimulus package announced in June, 2020.

The grants will allow registered community housing providers and local government authorities to build homes to meet demand for social housing throughout WA.

Mr Carey said the estimated value of projects supported through the program was about $62 million.

A WA Government spokesperson said this week the government has committed an additional $408 million towards housing and homelessness measures in the 2022-23 State Budget.

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