He looked for a rental property, but the homes on offer drew anywhere from 50 to 150 applications.
“I went through about 30 properties before it sunk in, ‘well, this is not happening’,” he said.
Trudi Ray, deputy chief executive of Haven Home Safe, a homelessness organization that provides housing solutions in Geelong and Bendigo, said about 25 key workers were sleeping rough in a campground in Bendigo’s north due to lack of affordable housing.
“It’s a Bendigo outrage how these people don’t have anywhere to stay,” Ray said during her presentation at the conference run by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute and Homelessness Australia.
Some are itinerant workers picking fruit, while others had full-time jobs in Bendigo. They did not consider themselves homeless because they either worked, or had job prospects, but were simply unable to find a house.
“They’re not our clients because they think they’re OK,” she said. “They just can’t find a rental.”
The rental vacancy rate in central Bendigo is a wafer-thin 0.9 per cent, Domain data shows. Greater Bendigo rents rose 10.5 per cent over the past year to a median $420 per week.
Tenants who try looking further afield may have no more luck, as the vacancy rate is just 0.5 per cent in the nearby region of Heathcote-Castlemaine-Kyneton, and in Loddon-Elmore it is 0.2 per cent.
The issue is widespread in regional Victoria. Geelong rents are 5.9 per cent more expensive than a year ago and the vacancy rate in central Geelong is 0.7 per cent. Ballarat’s vacancy rate is also at 0.7 per cent and rent has increased 5.6 per cent in a year.
Kevin Woodroffe is an itinerant worker who has been traveling between NSW and Victoria during the past few months. He has been sleeping in a car he inherited after his father died, and has been unable to find an affordable place to live.
“I don’t work [at the moment] and I can’t find a house,” Woodroffe said.
Bendigo City Council Mayor Andrea Metcalf said there had been high demand for rentals as new residents arrived from Melbourne, which was happening even before the pandemic, albeit at a slower rate.
“It was starting to show the cracks, but I would think that the pandemic has exacerbated it more,” Metcalf said.
Melbourne lost 85,000 residents in 12 months during the depths of COVID-19 restrictions, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.
Council figures show that about 3000 people in Bendigo need housing and the area needs more affordable housing to attract skilled workers. The council introduced an Affordable Housing Action Plan in September last year, which will require developers to have inclusionary housing zones in every development.
Metcalf said adding more one- to two-bedroom homes to the mix would mean older people, single people and those moving out of home for the first time would have more choice, as would those who need affordable options.
“We can do things like the Affordable Housing Action Plan … but a lot of the fixes around affordable housing sit with the state and federal governments,” Metcalf said.
The state government’s Big Housing Build has promised $85 million to Bendigo.“We’ll be really pleased to see those houses being rolled out and people moving into them,” Metcalf said.
Ray said the Big Housing Build would offer 12,000 new and existing properties over the next four years, and there were additional housing promises from the federal government, but there would still be a shortage even when they were all built.
Ray said one in 30 young people aged 15 to 19 had experienced first-time homelessness during the pandemic. The issue hit twice as many women and girls as men last year. About 5060 young people who presented to homelessness services in Victoria were unable to be housed due to a lack of supply, she said.
Meanwhile, homes across Victoria were being under-utilised, she said.
“We’re seeing a lot of homes that are full on the weekend – the ‘weekenders’ for city folk – but they are certainly vacant during the week,” Ray said.
In Yarriambiack Shire, which includes Warracknabeal, 680 homes are unoccupied.
Even someone looking for a temporary stay in a hotel may struggle. Booming tourism in the Bendigo area, while a boon for local businesses, had filled hotel rooms. The recent Elvis exhibition meant hotels were fully booked for four months, she said.
Companies in areas like the Wimmera had started providing housing for their workers, while others in areas like Castlemaine or Colac were providing transport to and from factories to overcome housing shortages.
Ballarat was also facing a rental squeeze, and the manager of homelessness services at church-based group Uniting Ballarat, Adam Liversage, said there were few rental homes available.
“We had a representative from a real estate agency [speak to us] who said they had 500 rentals in Ballarat and surrounds and only one property was available to rent,” Liversage said. “Warrnambool has a similar trend to Ballarat … where there’s only 151 properties available for rent.”
Ray said: “We also provide over 3500 food vouchers. What we know is one in four families, regardless of their socioeconomic status, coming to us now are accepting food relief.”
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