Attending dozens of house inspections, offering more than the advertised rental price, couch surfing and living in cars are all an emerging by-product of what's being dubbed the region's rental 'crisis'.
As swirling political and economic factors put the squeeze on rentals and drive up the cost of rent in Warrnambool, it's the community's most vulnerable who are being hit the hardest.
Most vulnerable hit
Anglicare Australia's latest rental affordability snapshot report found that no properties in any capital city were affordable for a single person on Youth Allowance or Newstart, and that there were only two properties across the country that were affordable for people on these payments.
Matt Chappel is on Newstart and the Disability Support Pension and has been applying for rentals in Warrnambool for two months to no avail after his landlord decided to move back to the property.
He has inspected and applied for up to 50 rentals and has been knocked back every time.
He is currently staying in the spare room at a friends grandmother's house, in a move that the 29-year-old describes as "degrading" as someone who has rented on their own for ten years.
"There's a housing crisis in Warrnambool, I personally know of three families living out of their cars and one who has two disabled children separated from them," he said.
"I've never had a rental experience like this, I've lived in the area for seven years in absolutely beautiful houses yet all of a sudden I can't get anything.
"I was given 60 days' notice but I couldn't find a house in time and was facing eviction. I'm now living at a friends grandmother's house; I would have been living in my car if it wasn't for her."
He said the constant rejections and uncertainty is affecting his mental health.
"This housing issue is getting the better of my anxiety and depression; that constant crippling feeling of being rejected over and over is giving me anxiety attacks," he said.
"It's just confusing, I don't know what's going on. I've been going to inspections where there's upwards of 30 people going through, and you don't expect that here, not at all."
Being on Newstart means Matt can't afford anything more than $300 a week.
"That gives me basically $50 per week to survive off without adding bills or food.
"I've been told that people are offering more for the houses than what's being advertised, and that's illegal."
The Salvation Army says a lack of affordable private rental has put more strain on the ability for people to access social housing.
SalvoConnect Western provides crisis accommodation and assistance to those experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless, and Southwest team leader Barry Clarke said they have been inundated with people seeking help in Warrnambool and surrounding areas in recent months.
"There's a high amount of people, especially single people, struggling to find affordable accommodation," he said.
"Over the past 12 months we've seen an increase in the amount of people being evicted from properties as the landlord is either selling or repossessing the property.
"People are becoming homeless because there's just not the same amount of properties available as there used to be. There are 15 people or more attending one or two bedroom inspections and 20 to 30 people attending three bedroom homes.
"It's becoming harder for people to break through into the market across the south-west region, not just Warrnambool."
SalvoConnect figures from 2018 show the Barwon South West Region had the least number of affordable rental properties compared to all other regional areas in Victoria, with only two affordable one bedroom homes for those on Centrelink incomes in Warrnambool.
According to the 2016 Census, 181 people were homeless in Warrnambool. Of those, 90 people were living in supported homeless accommodation at the time of the Census, 16 were staying temporarily with other households and 39 were living in other crowded dwellings.
Homes stand empty, abandoned
The issue of empty ministry homes across Warrnambool has been raised in Parliament by south-west coast MP Roma Britnell.
St Vincent De Paul Warrnambool volunteer of 52 years Jack Daffy raised the issue with Ms Britnell, who then took it to Spring Street.
Mr Daffy said the abandoned homes should be restored for use as crisis accommodation.
"There are a number of ministry homes around town that are empty," Mr Daffy said.
"Many are in need of repair and some maintenance, but when you have people sleeping in their cars and couch surfing it's ordinary to think there are perfectly good houses standing empty.
"The community needs to be asking why these places aren't being repaired or maintained? Or better yet, sold to organisations like SalvoConnect or Brophy Family and Youth Services?"
Mr Daffy said he was disappointed about the lack of political engagement with the issue in the lead up to the federal election.
"We're in the middle of an election and we've not heard one politician speak about homelessness, not at all," he said.
Ms Britnell said she is having ongoing discussions about the houses left to ruin.
"This is a matter I have raised in Parliament with the Minister for Housing, after listening to people in our local community who had concerns," she said.
"I have also raised the matter Department directly and am having fruitful, ongoing discussions with them."
While on the campaign trail in Warrnambool last week, Labor candidate for Wannon Maurice Billi acknowledged the region's housing market growing pains.
"People are saying there are jobs, there are projects coming into the area, particularly in the renewables sector, but there's pressure on the housing market in a number of towns right across the Wannon region," he said.
"There's nowhere for people to live so we have to relieve the pressure somehow."
Mr Billi said people on low incomes were being forced out of properties as the cost of rentals increased due to increased demand.
Residents hit with rent rise
Residents across the region have reported being hit with a rise in rent, as rental vacancy reaches a record- low and more landowners opt to put their properties up for sale.
Data from the Real Estate Institute of Victoria shows the annual median rental price for houses in Warrnambool climbed 9.6 per cent in the three years from 2013 to 2016, from $310 per week to $340.
Numbers have plateaued since 2016 at $330 per week in 2017 and 2018.
Contrary to house prices, the cost of renting a unit has fluctuated in the five years since 2013, dipping from $270 per week in 2013-14 to $250 in 2015, then $267.50 in 2016, and back down to $260 in 2017 and 2018.
REIV CEO Gil King said the lack of available rentals is contributing to the rent price rise.
"The rental vacancy rate for Warrnambool and the Western District is one of the lowest in Regional Victoria, sitting at 1.2 per cent," he said.
"The vacancy rate has halved in the past 12 months, indicating that Warrnambool's rental market is under pressure. A vacancy rate of three per cent is required for a healthy rental market where there is enough supply to meet demand.
"Competition for rental properties in Warrnambool is fierce but the increase in the median weekly rent for a house has been relatively modest, going up just $20 in the past five years."
Mr King said the trend reflected wider challenges in the Victorian property market.
"The Victorian property market is facing many challenges at the moment which provides a disincentive for people to invest in rental properties. These factors include tighter bank lending standards, land tax and stamp duty surcharges for foreign buyers, the passing of the Residential Tenancies Act and mooted negative gearing reforms," he said.
Falk and Co Director David Falk, who has been in the real estate industry for over 20 years, said rent rises are just "business as usual."
"It's a thing that happens every year, it's nothing new. The rates go up, and expenses go up, and someone has to pay for that," he said.
"And the end of the day landlords are running a business, and like any business they have to recoup their costs.
"Not every landlord does it, but some have to. It's normal business practice."
Mr Falk said shortage of rentals in Warrnambool has also contributed to the rent price spike.
"We do have a shortage of rentals here in Warrnambool; in some cases people are offering more than we're asking just to obtain a rental," he said.
"There's also been a rise in the market; when there's a high demand for properties it pushes the rent up.
"Because of all these new rules that the State Government has put in place, and are about to put in place, quite a lot of people are being scared out of having investment properties. So they dispose of their rental properties by putting them up for sale instead.
"Bad tenants make up a very small percentage - most tenants are very good at looking after properties and paying their rent on time. Unfortunately like most things, we tend to hear all the bad stories."
According to Consumer Affairs Victoria, the landlord or agent must give the tenant at least 60 days' notice for any rent increase, and must not increase the rent more than once in any six month period.
A tenant or resident can request a rent assessment from Consumer Affairs, or approach VCAT, in the case of a rent increase.
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