Bendigo mother Rebecca Rorke has been renting for 14 years. But this year, she nearly found herself homeless with seven children for the second time in 12 months.
- Low-income families are being squeezed out of the rental market
- Around 180 houses will be built in Bendigo for people in need as part of ‘Victoria’s Big Build’
- Bendigo mother Rebecca has been renting for 14 years but, during the pandemic, she nearly found herself homeless with six children
“I was just sick to my stomach, just riddled with anxiety,” she said.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Last year in a previous rental, Rebecca asked her real estate agent for essential maintenance works to be done at the property.
“There was mould going through the house. I was pregnant, it wasn’t safe,” she said.
But instead of fixing it, the landlord decided to sell the property, leaving Rebecca desperately searching for another rental.
The only suitable ones she could find were “way out” of the family’s budget.
Father of three Jay Dennis had been a good tenant in his Bendigo rental for years, when he found himself at risk of homelessness.
“It was terrible. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make ends meet,” he said.
He was made redundant during the pandemic last year. Despite being eligible for government rental assistance, due to difficulty contacting his former employer, he was issued with a notice to vacate when he fell behind in rent.
“I was just trying to keep the lights on and the kids fed,” Jay said.
He’s one of 395 Central Victorians who received support through Haven, Home, Safe’s Private Rental Assistance Program last year.
Haven, Home, Safe is Australia’s only integrated affordable rental housing and homelessness services provider.
In the first five months of this year, its rental assistance program helped 176 residents.
“Since January last year, we’ve supported 569 families in Bendigo,” said Haven, Home, Safe deputy CEO Trudi Ray.
“Without the funding we get from the government, 569 families may be homelessness or at a greater risk of a housing crisis.”
Jay was able to stay in his rental and find a full-time job. But he spends 45 per cent of his weekly wage on rent, meaning he’s in housing stress.
And he’s not alone. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, more than one million Australians are in housing stress.
Housing crisis at boiling point
According to the latest rental report from the Department of Health and Human Services, rent in regional Victoria has increased by 1.7 per cent over the past three months and 6.1 per cent over the past year.
Rebecca Rorke’s weekly income is the same as her rent. She works seven days a week at two jobs, while her partner works night shift, so they can afford rent and food for the family.
“It’s almost double what you’d pay for a mortgage,” she said.
While their current house is “way out of their budget”, she says it’s the only one they could get.
The mother of seven says when she was applying for rentals, a real estate agent told her they would not put someone with children in a new house.
“They told me they wouldn’t rent to anyone with children because they were brand new houses,” Rebecca said.
Haven, Home, Safe says low-income families are being priced out of the rental market, with a lack of affordable housing taking the regional housing crisis to boiling point.
“I think there are about 50 to 70 people going to apply for the one property,” Trudi Ray said.
Homelessness on the rise
Homelessness rose by 46 per cent between 2006 and 2016, according to the latest census.
“That is no doubt going to increase exponentially this year,” Ms Ray said.
“As a sector, we turn around hundreds of people a day because we just don’t have the resources or accommodation to help them.”
Victoria has the lowest proportion of social housing in Australia. Only 3.3 per cent of Victoria’s housing stock is social housing. The national average is 4.2 per cent.
The state government has committed $5.3 billion to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis, called Victoria’s Big Build, with $1.25 billion to go towards providing more social and affordable housing in regional Victoria.
Haven, Home, Safe says $85 million has been allocated to the Bendigo region, which will provide between 180 to 200 houses for people in need.