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Housing fix urged to prevent homelessness

Eden Rodgers and her partner Phoebe Miller were on the verge of being homeless after being turned away from every rental property they applied for in Bathurst, NSW.

A real estate agent gave the young couple three months’ notice to leave their rental last year, forcing them into a competitive market filled with tree-changers from Sydney.

“It’s extremely stressful with this monkey on your back, especially when you have everyday stresses,” said Ms Rodgers, a 25-year-old childcare worker.

“It’s the thought of not having a place to call home and being unwanted.”

Losing hope after finding out they were on a rental “blacklist” due to a negative house inspection, they registered with a homelessness support service.

They were referred to Housing Plus, which owns or manages more than 1000 affordable homes across western NSW, and secured a new house a fortnight before their notice period was up.

Statistically, the couple is lucky to have found a home. The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute says there is a social housing shortfall of 433,400 across the country.

Regional areas are under particular strain, as country Australia grew by more than 70,000 people during the peak of the pandemic, driving up rents by as much as 20 per cent.

It was the first time since 1981 that Australia’s regional growth was greater than the capital cities, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

There is a push from major community service providers to make housing an election priority, with Mission Australia calling for more than 800,000 social and affordable dwellings in the next 20 years.

Anglicare says the housing shortage means it can no longer underwrite private rental leases in high-demand areas, like Mount Gambier, South Australia, the Pilbara in Western Australia and the Northern Rivers, NSW.

“There’s a lack of availability as well as affordability” Executive Director Kasy Chambers told AAP.

“More and more, we’re hearing from people who say housing is making it impossible to run a family budget.”

Affordable housing should be a concern for entire communities because essential workers in health, retail and childcare rely upon it, she says.

Housing stability also influences mental and physical health, and access to education and employment.

“It really is the foundation for everything,” Ms Chambers said.

Anglicare is set to release new national figures on rental affordability this week.

Other major community sector organisations are backing the Everybody’s Home campaign, calling for a national housing plan and a homelessness strategy.

The organisations also support a new tax incentive to encourage private sector investment in affordable properties.

For Ms Rodgers and her partner, moving into an affordable home has been life-changing.

The pair was able to pay a rental bond in instalments and access support services. Their house is solar-powered, so their electricity costs are significantly reduced, Ms Rodgers says.

“It was such a relief. We cried.”

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