Housing activists call for rent relief now

Housing activists Barney Gardner and Robert Car outside NSW parliament. Photo: Rachel Evans

Public housing tenants, housing co-operative activists and renters managed to unfurl large letters spelling out “Rent Relief Now” as New South Wales parliament re-convened on May 12 to change 40 laws as part of its response to the pandemic. NSW Police harassed the activists until they were forced to abandon their safe distance protest.

Barney Gardner, from the Millers Point Public Housing Tenant Group, told Green Left that “the rich were trying to make us pay for the COVID-19 crisis” but that “we can stop them”.

“We need to re-invigorate housing defence campaigns by, among other things, vigorously pursuing the NSW government to build more public and social housing, and put a stop to public housing being sold off.”

Gardner was central to the campaign to stop the NSW government from selling off public housing in Millers Point.

“Residential renters are suffering with job cuts and a loss of income, placing them in financial hardship and rental stress through no fault of their own,” Gardner said.

“If this situation is not urgently addressed, we will have a massive increase in homelessness and our cities will become mono socio-economic playgrounds for the rich. 

“We are demanding the government legislate to reduce rents in line with the reduced income of renters, and introduce clear laws to put a stay on any evictions for those affected by COVID19.”

NSW parliament recommended giving landlords $2500 per tenant if the tenant can prove economic hardship. To receive the sum, landlords must reduce the rent (to an unspecified amount). It also reduced the termination fee for breaking a lease from four weeks to two.

The NSW Greens pushed for seven amendments to help residential tenants, including broadening the moratorium on evictions, which currently only applies to those who can prove they have lost at least 25% of their income as a result of the pandemic. They successfully won some increased protections for tenants forced to terminate their lease, but did not gain enough support for other measures that would have directly helped a vulnerable sector.

[Rachel Evans is a housing activist and a member of Socialist Alliance. You can sign on to a petition for rent relief here. For more assistance visit the NSW Tenants Union.]

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