High rent paid by mining companies and holidaymakers is leaving low-income earners almost completely priced out of the rental market in Broome, a new report from Curtin University shows.

The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre’s report Housing Affordability in WA: A Tale of Two Tenures found that Broome was the least affordable place in the State to live, with even the cheapest houses being far outside the means of a low-income household.

The median income of the lowest quartile of households in Broome is just $774 a week, the report found, with the lowest quartile of rental housing sitting at $480 per week.

It’s a rental squeeze that leaves low-income households with just $294 left over for weekly expenses.

Professor Alan Duncan, the Economics Centre’s director, said the rental squeeze is particularly difficult for the area’s Indigenous population, who are among the lowest income earners across Australia.

“Rents are generally more affordable in regional towns in WA when compared to Perth metro, but there are a few important exceptions to this rule — especially in the resource-intensive regional towns of Karratha and Port Hedland, to a degree in Busselton and Bunbury, and more significantly in Broome,” Professor Duncan told NIT.

“The high rental costs in Broome raise a particular concern for Indigenous and lower socio-economic status families in the region, who will inevitably face serious challenges in accessing rental properties.”

Experts say the prices are driven by Airbnbs and mining companies leasing private rentals at a rate that locals can’t compete with.

“The lucrative vacation rental market is just adding more to these pressures. This is a big social issue for the Kimberley, and one that needs to be resolved to mitigate the risks of driving more in the region towards homelessness,” Professor Duncan said.

MADALAH’s Alex Carkeek runs the educational not-for-profit’s Education, Employability and Housing program in Broome.

She says the housing squeeze is preventing young people from being able to move out of the government housing system.

“We’re seeing now that there’s big corporations renting houses privately off people for triple the amount that people can afford and rent,” she said.

“It’s really difficult for young (Indigenous) people to live in a government supported means-based rental system and then move to a private lease where the price might be four or five times the amount they pay with us a week.”

Aboriginal renters are at a double disadvantage in Broome; a very competitive rental market can increase the occurrence of racial discrimination, Professor Duncan said.

“Obviously it’s not something that we can measure directly, but we can simply infer that when competition for a few rental properties increases, then that opens the door for some discrimination to take place,” he said.

Ms Carkeek says she has seen those negative attitudes towards Indigenous people stifling housing improvements.

“We (MADALAH) ourselves as an organisation have struggled to get past the Shire and the community when we’re trying to open additional facilities so we can cater for these young people,” she said.

“The backlash from the community is that thought that the facilities will become overcrowded, and there’ll be antisocial behaviour.”

“There’s a huge kind of NIMBY (not in my backyard) situation going on where people want to see that Aboriginal families in Aboriginal communities are accessing better services and accessing equity in all ways, but they also don’t want to be part of it or be supportive in any other way.”

Labor member for the Kimberley, Divina D’Anna is a Broome local and a Yawuru, Nimanburr and Bardi woman.

She says there is no simple solution to the pressures placed on people looking for a home.

“As a long-term Broome local and renter, I know firsthand the increasing challenges low-income earners face when attempting to secure and keep a rental in Broome,” she said.

But Ms D’Anna is hopeful that Government measures including the $20,000 Building Bonus Grant, expansion to eligibility for Keystart and $116 million Regional Land Booster program will drive an increase in housing stock.

“Broome has seen a 195 per cent increase in building approvals year-on-year to May 2021,” she said.

“The recent Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre report on housing affordability in WA noted at least 10,000 rentals were expected to progressively become available over the coming six to 12 months, as first-homebuyers who made use of Government incentives move into their new homes.

“This will provide relief to the rental market, including on affordability.”

By Sarah Smit