This family skips meals to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic — they say rent aid goes a long way
Jacky Pham and his wife both work as nail technicians.
When social distancing measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic were put in place two months ago, their jobs became redundant.
But even though the couple had both lost their jobs, they still had to meet their $700 fortnightly rent payments for their home in Hobart’s Sandy Bay suburb.
“I’m in a difficult situation because of coronavirus. I don’t have enough money to pay rent,” Mr Pham said.
“On a normal day, we eat two meals a day,” Mr Pham said, adding some days they were down to one.
Mr Pham said he contacted the Harcourts rental agency about having lost his income on March 26.
He said he was given a form for rent deduction, which he filled out promptly, but had to keep following up.
Mr Pham said the agency said the landlord had been “ignoring them” and the agency was not in a position to reduce rent without the landlord’s permission.
Two months after first flagging his predicament, Mr Pham is still paying the full price in rent.
He has even resorted to asking his family in Vietnam for help, and was a day late in his last payment — for the first time ever.
“I told the agency that I don’t have enough money and that’s why I have to lend money from my friend and my family. That’s why I was late one day,” he said.
Harcourts property manager confirmed Mr Pham had flagged the change to his financial situation and inquired about rent relief.
The manager said the landlord had not responded to requests to have his tenants’ rent reviewed, and the agency could not make decisions on the landlord’s behalf.
However, the agent said Mr Pham was told he could pay as much rent as he could afford.
Rent relief for those who’ve fallen through the cracks
Mr Pham is a foreign national and does not hold a permanent residency.
This means he has not qualified for the Federal Government’s JobKeeper or JobSeeker support during the pandemic.
But from next week, he can apply for the Tasmanian Government’s COVID-19 rent relief fund.
The Government on Tuesday announced Tasmanians and visa holders who pay at least one-third of their income on rent, have less than $5,000 in savings and can prove they experience “extreme hardship” can access rent aid.
The targeted support of a one-off $2,000 payment or four weeks’ of rent covered also extends to tenants who are not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act.
Attorney-General Elise Archer said many people had not been able to access JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and the new relief package benefits those who have previously fallen through the cracks.
“Payments will be made to landlords and it will be a requirement they pass on this level of assistance to renters to meet their rental obligations.”
Ms Archer estimated there were around 1,000 tenants in Tasmania who required this help.
“We’ve uncapped the fund, so there isn’t a limit. However, we believe that there could be up to $1.5 million dollars required,” she said.
The Tenants’ Union of Tasmania solicitor Ben Bartl said there were around 26,000 temporary residents like Mr Pham in Tasmania, who did not get Federal Government support during the global pandemic.
“These are desperate people in desperate circumstances and the Government should, where possible, provide assistance to them.”
He said the Tasmanian Government should be “congratulated” on putting in place the rent relief package, but the help could have come sooner.
“In hindsight, yes, the Government should have moved sooner. But that said, the Government is one of the first in Australia to introduce this measure, and for that they are to be congratulated,” he said.
“We know that this initiative is in place until the 30th of June, which is when the emergency period is meant to end.
“If COVID-19 does continue and tenants can demonstrate that they are in financial hardship, we would hope that the Government would step up and continue to provide additional funds.”
Mr Pham said his employer had already indicated he might not have a job to return to after restrictions are lifted. He said any help from the Government would go a long way.
“I’m sure that I will apply for [rent relief]. With that financial support I can keep paying rent until I can get a new job,” he said.