New research by Sydney University finds the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a rise in underlying housing vulnerabilities such as overcrowding and an increase in long-term private rental housing availability.

The research, ‘Marginal housing during COVID-19’ commissioned by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURIA) was led by research author Dr Caitlin Buckle from the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning. It examined the impact of the pandemic on health and housing risks in marginal and informal housing, as well as changes to the demand and supply of short-term rental (STR) housing during COVID-19.

It found residents of ‘informal’ and marginal tenures—particularly those living in substandard or overcrowded rental accommodation—may face additional health risks in the context of COVID-19, largely because of the need to share bedrooms and facilities such as bathrooms and kitchens.

The report examined emerging research from the US which indicates that, for every five percent increase in the number of households with poor housing conditions - such as overcrowding, incomplete kitchen facilities, or incomplete plumbing facilities (all characteristics of marginal and informal housing) - there was a 50 percent higher risk of COVID-19 infections.

“We’ve also seen risks to stable tenures due to informal rental arrangements negotiated between landlords and tenants, or between members of group or share households,” says Buckle.

“In the specific context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been reports of international students and migrants being evicted from share houses, resorting to rough sleeping and facing housing discrimination due to fears of virus transmission.”

The report identified significant risks to older residents living in marginal housing during the pandemic.

“Age is a known risk factor in relation to the COVID-19 virus and people over the age of 60 living in substandard housing such as boarding houses will have multiple vulnerabilities,” says Buckle.

“Given the concentration of residents in boarding houses, and the prevalence of shared facilities, older residents are likely to be at increased risk of infection”.