Dozens of single-parent families in Warrnambool are living out of a car, couch surfing or staying in motels while many in a private rental assistance program have been rejected up to 50 times, new data reveals.
Figures obtained by The Standard from The Salvation Army's housing services show there are 97 open initial assessment planning cases in Warrnambool, about 90 per cent of which are looking for accommodation.
Of those, between 20 and 30 are single-parent families who are either couch surfing, staying in emergency housing (including in motels) or in cars.
About eight have received notices to vacate because their properties have been sold, and four or five of these are older people.
Meanwhile, in the private rental assistance program the Salvation Army's south-west worker currently has 24 open cases including 10 who have received notices to vacate because the property is being sold, or the owner wants it back.
On average, these clients have each lodged 40-50 unsuccessful rental applications to date. It's a striking snapshot of Warrnambool's rental crisis.
Data from Domain's latest rental report for the December quarter showed the city came in at 10th on the tally of biggest annual increases in weekly rents, surging by 13.5 per cent or $50 to a median of $420.
Bethany Community Support tenancy assistance and advocacy program worker David Brozinski said the rent hikes put those already struggling at higher risk.
"With the majority of my service users being on Centrelink income or otherwise suffering financial hardship, these rent increases are causing enormous stress on budgets that already did not have the capacity for additional expenses," Mr Brozinski said.
"The strain on renters has worsened since the extra financial support from Centrelink was reduced. I have seen renters have to leave homes they have lived in for a number of years because they could no longer afford it."
He said the situation worsened the already "very competitive market".
"While the lack of rental properties is part of the cause of rents going up it has also meant that renters who are facing eviction have the prospect of a very competitive market where they are applying for properties that are all outside their budget," he said.
"When you also have a lack of available social and public housing as well as a lack of storage options renters face eviction where the only offer is a few nights in a motel and nowhere for their belongings to go. Alternatively, renters are looking much further away for housing."
Lindy Vandermeer and Paul Laws are currently living in a house in Port Fairy with their four children after a couple heard about their plight and offered them a place to stay.
But with a deadline of the end of March to find a new rental, Ms Vandermeer said despite being invested in the south-west, with her children enrolled in schools in Warrnambool and Koroit, she was being priced out of the market and may have to look further afar.
"We were talking to each other yesterday asking if we might have to leave," she said.
"We can't afford to pay $600 a week. We were thinking we might go somewhere else, but we don't want to - we haven't spoken to the kids because they're going to be devastated.
"Our eldest daughter Topsy was able to go to the leadership academy last year in the last term, she would never have had that opportunity if we were elsewhere."
She said four years ago they moved to Koroit because it was affordable.
"We looked at the rentals at the time, which were quite cheap," Ms Vandermeer said.
"We thought we could set up there for the kids to go to school. We were paying $380 or $320 in North Street in Koroit. The house wasn't huge but it was on a massive big block."
With "not one house available in Koroit" she is hoping to move back to Warrnambool, but prices are out of her budget.
"Now in Warrnambool, you're looking at prices of $500 to $600 for a four-bedroom house," Ms Vandermeer said.
"There were 38 rentals last week but there's only 26 this week. Nothing was under $500 this week either."
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