Storm over rent rises at Shorty’s

Residents at Shorty O’Neil Village are up in arms after owners Eureka Villages told them rent per unit is increasing to $300 per week – a rise of $50 a week and the second rent increase in as many years.

Some residents fear the increase – set for October 12 – is not possible for them to afford and now the city’s council has also rowed into the issue with a call for a report after a passionate debate about the issue in council this week.

The village used to be owned by the council but was sold for just over $1million to Eureka in 2015.

At the council meeting it was claimed Eureka is now receiving somewhere in the region of $700,000 in income per year – a 67% return on their investment.

“How would people like that sort of investment?” asked Mayor Tom Kennedy.

“Two years, you’ve paid off your loan. So that’s just how bad it is,” he said.

In a letter to residents about the rent rise, Eureka Villages listed, “a dedicated and passionate Village Manager, a community room, social activities and events, beautiful gardens and grounds taken care of by gardening staff and contractors, maintenance requests attended to, water usage, furry friends (pets) welcome, and of course a place where all of your friends, family and care support are welcome,” as the benefits of being a tenant at the facility.

We’ve been talking to the Village’s residents, all of whom are senior citizens.

Many are upset, angry and worried by the rent rises. None will give their names because they’re concerned they could be picked on, but they are outspoken about the soaring rent.

One resident said that after living at the facility for more than five years, they could no longer afford the rent, as they were no longer able to work due to a medical condition.

A second resident told the Truth almost half their pension would be going directly on rent, which would place them under critical housing stress. The resident added when they moved to the village seven years ago, their initial rent was around $180 a week.

“We are all so overwhelmed and devastated, I thought this was going to be my forever home.”

Some residents say they will not be able to pay the increased rent and are planning on leaving the facility when their rental agreements end.

“We are all so overwhelmed and devastated, I thought this was going to be my forever home, but now I’m living on eggshells all the time because of what’s going on,” one resident said.

Stacey Wright, national leasing manager for Eureka Villages, told us, “unfortunately, we are living in a high inflationary economy, and Eureka has not been immune from cost increases across the board.

“We will be increasing the frequency and variety of activities within the village to provide residents with more options to engage within the community and build strong friendships.”

These include retaining the dedicated village manager on site, maintenance for the grounds and gardens, resident engagement programs, and continuing to  provide a community room to allow residents to gather for events and activities.

“We are confident that our rental rates remain competitive and represent excellent value,” Ms Wright said.

“Eureka prides itself on providing affordable accommodation for seniors and note that our new rental rates equate to less than half the single aged pension, Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and pension supplements.”

The 15% increase in the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance, which comes in this September, would assist many of their residents, she said.

But as a resident pointed out to us, their rental supplement is about $117 a fortnight, meaning a 15% increase of this supplement will only total an additional $17.55 a fortnight, leaving them with a $82.45 shortfall in their fortnightly budget once the rental increase becomes effective.

Somewhat bizarrely, Ms Wright said, “reducing utility costs is a great way to save,” adding that she advises residents to “consider shopping around to reduce their energy expenses”.

The units at the facility do not have separate electricity or hot water meters. Without a separate meter, as one resident pointed out, “how could we work out electricity [costs] when I share my hot water service with next door?”

All of the residents we spoke to praised the village managers.

“They are always there helping us when we need something done, they are so approachable, they celebrate with us for our special milestones, they are just the best managers you could ask for,” one resident said.

The Council decided this week to call for a full report into the Village’s situation.

“It’s a private enterprise and they have to cover costs and make sure that they’re making money out of it to keep it viable,” said Mayor Kennedy.

“But what’s disappointing for me as the Mayor and disappointing for a number of the councillors tonight is, that could have still been a Council asset where we would have had control over the increases.

“Unlike private business, even if it’s not-for-profit, we would have had the option of keeping the prices down. There’s no way councillors would increase rents to $300 and drive people out of it.

“If it was in Council’s hands, we’d have a lot of say over it and it just wouldn’t happen.

“It was an asset that was bought and looked after by the Council, supported by the community, and sold off for way too cheap.”

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