Australia’s growing housing crisis is worsening the tenuous hold that renters have on a safe and stable home.
A limited supply of available homes combined with strong demand propelled a 14.6% increase in the national median weekly advertised rent over the year to September, according to PropTrack data, while sharply rising living costs are adding to the pressure. Many are already in housing stress.
Anika Legal has been seeing the impact first-hand as demand continues to rise for its free legal service, which helps renters who are unable to afford assistance.
“There were always millions of people struggling to maintain safe housing,” says Anika Legal CEO Noel Lim, “but it's now at the point where it's affecting not just low-income earners, but also middle-income earners.”
Anika Legal is both a registered charity and social enterprise, with much of its legal assistance provided by law students. Universities pay Anika Legal a fee to place their students, who gain valuable practical experience advising clients.
It was the sustainability and innovation of that initial idea which won the Melbourne Global Legal Hackathon in 2018, and then runner-up position at the Global Legal Hackathon final in New York City, spurring the creation of Anika Legal.
“The social enterprise model is continuously growing and at this point, it sustains the services, but it doesn't sustain the entire organisation yet,” Noel says. “That's where philanthropy plays a really important role allowing us to test ideas and create more innovative business models.”
Scalable solutions to help more Australians
Anika Legal is exploring ways to scale up its assistance given about one-third of Australians are renters. Many have trouble enforcing their rights to safe accommodation, such as basic residential repairs, given the threat of eviction or a steep rent rise in a tight market. Those who do complain must navigate a complex and under-resourced regulatory system.
Anika Legal is currently working with community organisation Launch Housing to launch a free Housing Health Check app for all renters. It has already run a pilot of the program, which supports renters to start new tenancies by identifying and tackling potential legal risks such as unfair contract terms in a lease or completing an effective condition report.
“Given the rental crisis, we're in dire need of that type of proactive approach so that renters can set their tenancy up for success and avoid the problems that they might face later around housing insecurity.”
“That proactive approach was really only possible because philanthropy backed it – there was the risk appetite from philanthropy to do things differently and why that whole project was possible.”
Anika Legal, as well as Launch Housing, have received support from trusts managed by Equity Trustees.
If the Housing Health Check solution gains traction, it could help alleviate the housing crisis given it will take years to build enough new homes for all Australians.
“If we can find innovative solutions for people in the private rental market, it would help stop them from having to move into social housing or potentially falling into homelessness. This would then free up those resources that can be used just for the people who really require those intensive services.”
To respond to the scale of the housing crisis, Anika Legal is seeking funding to build a suite of digital tools, including the Housing Health Check app. These tools would be freely accessible to all renters to assist them in solving common tenancy problems and to maintain a safe home. If you’d like to learn more about this contact Noel Lim at firstname.lastname@example.org.