The number of people living in boarding houses in the inner suburbs of Wollongong could more than double if all proposals currently in the works get approved.
According to the latest census figures on homelessness, there were 166 people in the Illawarra living in boarding houses, with 89 of those people living in inner-Wollongong.
Just this week, there are plans for another three boarding houses on display with Wollongong council.
Located on Gwynne Street and Madoline Street in Gwynneville and Grafton Street, Fairy Meadow, they would provide another 47 rooms.
There have been numerous other proposals, especially in these suburbs in recent months, and in April developers lodged an application to build a multi-storey boarding house – with up to 81 beds – near Wollongong railway station.
Warren Wheeler, of the Illawarra and South Coast Tenants Services, said it was clear the rental market squeeze was driving more people into more temporary tenancy agreements in boarding houses.
“With the tightening of the rental market, people are looking for other alternatives,” he said.
“Boarding houses traditionally, in the last 20 years, the main demographic has been single males, often low income and in Wollongong they might have been people just released from prison or experiencing relationship breakdowns.
“But now we are seeing other people availing themselves to these options.”
Mr Wheeler said he was not surprised to see more proposals for boarding houses, especially as developers work to cater for university students, but said boarders has fewer rights than other rental tenants.
“I have to support the idea of there being more housing options, and whether or not a boarding house is the idea housing for one person is really up to them,” he said.
“But I would say that people ought not go into boarding houses believing they will be protected as well as a tenant, and they should seek advice before signing an occupancy agreement.”
For instance, he said it was easier for boarding house tenants to be evicted, despite new regulations brought in several years ago.
“This legislation is still weak – it does spell out expectations and how to resolve disputes, but unlike rental rights… by the time you get to the [tenancy] tribunal] you’re likely to have already been evicted,” Mr Wheeler said. “Boarding houses can also be a very short-term solution for people, because both residents and landlords only have to give minimal notice. The more long-term housing solutions you can provide, you’re going to be building a better community.”
Amid the Wollongong boarding house boom, the NSW developers lobby has also weighed in, raising concerns about the NSW Government’s move to tighten development standards.
In a proposed change to the state policy on affordable housing, parking requirements for boarding houses would increase to 0.5 spaces per room (currently at 0.2 spaces per room).
The Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) says this will “likely result in diminishing the feasibility for boarding houses, limiting housing options for those on low and very low incomes”.
UDIA’s Southern Region Manager Keiran Thomas said he believed the requirement to build more parking could “kill off boarding houses in Wollongong”.
“These boarding houses are already required to be located in ‘accessible areas’ close to public transport so most occupants don’t need cars,” he said.
“It could make many boarding houses unfeasible to build at a time when more affordable housing is desperately needed in Wollongong.”