Illawarra organisations have joined others from across the country in calling for governments to implement a range of reforms to improve the worsening situation facing renters in Australia, with one expert describing it as "truly desperate" for her clients.
The Illawarra Legal Centre and Southern Youth and Family Services were among the more than 80 organisations that made a joint submission to the federal Senate inquiry into the rental crisis.
Southern Youth and Family Services chief executive officer Narelle Clay said the housing situation was the worst she had seen in her 30 years working in the sector, and for the people she worked with - primarily young people and low-income families - it was "truly desperate".
Ms Clay said the region had a highly competitive rental market with no affordable properties for people receiving financial assistance, and even people with employment were having difficulties securing a home.
"For a long time we have not been building adequate social housing and not providing adequate affordable housing," she said.
She said governments needed to provide and build more social and affordable housing - which was "essential" - and develop a plan to keep up with demand.
She said it was worrying that the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund had stalled (new legislation to set up the fund was introduced to parliament on August 2 after it was previously blocked in the Senate by the Greens and Coalition).
Without secure, affordable housing, Ms Clay said, people experienced detrimental impacts to access to education and healthcare, deleterious effects to their mental health, and went without other basic necessities - something that had flow-on effects for the whole community.
Ms Clay also said stronger protections against rent increases, increased responsibilities for landlords to maintain properties, and clear reasons for eviction were also important.
"I think the most major issue is the instability in housing," Claire Brown, tenancy team leader at the ILC, said.
A lack of supply and the existence of 'no grounds' evictions, she said, made it a landlords' market, even when tenants knew it was their right to live in a well-maintained home.
"Having that possibility of being made homeless hanging over your head makes renters feel that they can't assert their rights," Ms Brown said.
Both the current Labor government and the former Coalition government pledged to end no grounds evictions ahead of the March state election, but that extended only to periodic tenancies.
Ms Brown said if NSW adopted this model, like Queensland, it resulted in renters being placed only on fixed-term tenancies - which provided some security, but only for the tenure of the lease.
The rental market in the Illawarra had only gotten worse, she said, especially following an influx of people during the pandemic.
Ms Browne also said there should be efficiency standards for rental homes, with many tenants facing huge energy bills due to a lack of insulation.
The joint submission also calls for better enforcement and oversight to ensure landlord compliance with laws and access to free advice and advocacy for tenants.
"We collectively bring attention to the need for national, state and territory governments to work together to develop a consultative framework and national plan for rental reform, to deliver meaningful outcomes across all jurisdictions," the submission said.
Submissions to the rental crisis inquiry close on September 1.
The Senate committee is due to present an interim report later that month and a final report by November 28.
Meanwhile, the NSW government is seeking feedback on improving rental laws, until August 11.