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Rent crisis: Girl, 8, forced to live in garage exposes Australia’s ‘hidden homeless’

The rental crisis in Australia is now worse than before the pandemic, according to a new affordability report.

An eight-year-old girl and her single dad had to move into a friend’s garage when they became homeless as he unexpectedly lost his job and copped a rent increase at the same time.

Justin* said rent and expenses had gone up so much they “couldn’t stay” in their rental property and were evicted when he burned through his savings while trying to find another job.

“We could only take a few things - like school and cooking stuff. We slept in the garage, it was awful. I had to say goodbye to my home,” his daughter Ruby* said.

The financial pressure the Aussie family felt is not unique and the tightening of the rental market is showing no signs of easing, with the vacancy rate slumping to 1.02 per cent in October and affordability deteriorating to levels not seen for decades.

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Are you struggling to afford rent? Contact belinda.grantgeary@yahooinc.com

A man holding a child imposed over a map showing red suburbs in rental crisis.
An Australian father has spoken out about being forced to move into a garage with his daughter as the rental market continues to tighten. (Source: Yahoo Finance/SGS Economics/National Shelter)

The severe squeeze from 13 interest rate hikes on mortgage holders has trickled down and National Shelter CEO Emma Greenhalgh said the situation had gone from “bad to worse” as she called for the government to better regulate renters’ rights and prioritise building more housing.

“In the past year, renters have been smashed with enormous rent hikes well beyond income growth,” she said.

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“With vacancy rates so incredibly low, landlords have been able to pass on interest rate rises to tenants. And the pressure is only set to increase following last week’s rate rise. More households in our cities and our regions are in rental stress and many areas are the most unaffordable they have ever been.”

Affordability has become worse in almost every Australian city (Hobart and Canberra not included), while the regions are also copping huge disparities between what people are earning and what they need to fork out for rent.

Melbourne has suffered a 10 per cent affordability blow but remains, along with the ACT, the only locations where the rent is acceptable for an average household’s income, according to the ninth annual National Shelter-SGS Economics and Planning Rental Affordability Index.

Low income families, like Justin and Ruby are facing “dire” situations, with those on a JobSeeker income needing to spend more than 75 per cent of their income on a one-bedroom apartment in any capital. Even in the most affordable regional area in the country - South Australia - a tenant on JobSeeker would need to spend 53 per cent of their wage on rent.

There are 3,000 Australians who will reach out to homeless services every hour, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s homelessness report.

SGS ECONOMICS, NATIONAL SHELTER
SGS ECONOMICS, NATIONAL SHELTER

‘Hidden homelessness’: ‘Bleak’ Christmas warning

Homelessness is not just those forced to live on the street. Families like Justin and his daughter, who stay in overcrowded dwellings, refuges, boarding houses, or temporarily living with friends or family are part of the ‘hidden homeless’ community, and often do all they can to hide the reality of their situation.

“I was embarrassed and I didn't want my friends to know I was living in a garage,” Ruby said.

The pair have been given temporary accommodation by Mission Australia ahead of Christmas.

But the charity’s CEO said more and more Australians were leaning on the charity, which is now under unprecedented pressure.

“This year, in particular, we’ve seen really quite bleak circumstances, which have pushed more people into homelessness and financial distress. Christmas will be an anxious time for many, especially for the increasing numbers of people and families without a safe place to call home,” Sharon Callister said.

Staff at the charity have described the housing situation this year as “the worst they’ve ever seen”, agreeing with Greenhalgh that there needs to be more social housing provided for those falling on hard times.

“We also know that, at Christmas time, financial and other pressures can increase, and we anticipate this will again be the case this year given the massive trials faced by people in 2023,” she said.

A study by World Remit found Australia was the third-most-expensive country during Christmas, with families set to spend an average of $1,863.86 per household this year.

Mission Australia is one of many Australian charities appealing for help to support those most in need for Christmas.

Case workers who helped find Justin and Ruby temporary housing, basic furniture, bedding and a fridge also brought presents over to ensure she had something to open on Christmas Day.

Australia's 10 least affordable post codes

  1. Jindabyne, regional NSW. Rent of $1,150 is 70 per cent of income

  2. Seaforth, Sydney, Rent of $1,450 is 65 per cent of income

  3. City Beach, Perth, Rent of $1,200 is 59 per cent of income

  4. Eumundi, regional Queensland. Rent of $1,050 is 58 per cent of income

  5. Northbridge, Sydney. Rent of $1,175 is 54 per cent of income

  6. Byron Bay, regional NSW. Rent of $880 is 54 per cent of income

  7. Belrose, Sydney. Rent of $1,125 is 51 per cent of income

  8. Frenchs Forest, Sydney. Rent of $1,100 is 50 per cent of income

  9. Warriewood, Sydney. Rent of $1,100 is 50 per cent of income

  10. Avalon/Bilgola, Sydney. Rent of $1,050 is 48 per cent of income

These calculations were made with the median weekly rent of an area, and that figure as a share of the average rental household income there.

* Not their real names

If you're feeling overwhelmed and need help dealing with financial stress, you can access free advice and counselling from the National Debt Helpline. You can call 1800 007 007 between 9.30am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.

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