AFFORDABLE accommodation will be an unachievable dream for more low-income south-west residents if tougher new federal welfare rules are introduced, housing workers warn.
They predict more homelessness and even starvation if proposed federal budget measures to enforce a six-month eligibility period for unemployment benefits are approved.
Young people on benefits already need to spend about 65 per cent of their income to rent a privately-owned one-bedroom unit in Warrnambool.
According to Brophy Family and Youth Services team leader Peter Flanagan and SalvoConnect regional manager Lindsay Stow substantial changes to welfare eligibility could have dire consequences.
“If people are under 30 and unemployed then have to wait six months to get on to welfare how will they afford to eat, how will they pay rent?” Mr Flanagan said.
Mr Stow said it was hard to imagine how some people would survive without income for six months.
"If this budget measure gets through I can see problems with people getting kicked out of home because they can't pay the rent," he said.
"There's certainly no indication agencies will be given extra money to increase assistance services."
Mr Flanagan, who heads the Brophy youth homelessness program, said there were about 300 clients a year seeking assistance.
"Our homelessness figures rose sharply about 2007 and remained high since," he said.
"We certainly are concerned about proposed welfare changes.
"This region already has a 17.5 per cent youth unemployment rate."
He referred to recent figures by the Department of Human Services which showed only five one-bedroom units in Warrnambool as being affordable for people on low incomes.
"Ten years ago the rent was $98 and affordability 71 per cent while now it's $180 and 23 per cent affordability," Mr Flanagan said.
"Public housing rental is rebated so tenants pay 25 per cent of their income, but there is a long waiting list especially for single people.
"Young mums can get into public housing quicker and have more income, but they too find it difficult."
The June public housing figures showed 465 people on the Warrnambool region waiting list - one of the biggest in regional Victoria.
Mr Stow said a combination of more vacant private houses and an easing in rent prices had improved the situation somewhat for families.
"We've had reasonable success in helping clients access private rental and have been spending our money on rent advances," he said.