Renting in Bendigo unaffordable for the most disadvantaged

Housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for the poorest in the community.
Housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for the poorest in the community.

Bendigo is an unaffordable place to live for single pensioners, single people on Centrelink and single parents working part-time, the latest Rental Affordability Index suggests.

Meanwhile, the head of a local housing service provider says the number of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness is continually growing.

The RAI, prepared by National Shelter, Community Sector Banking and SGS Economics and Planning, shows the 3550 postcode is considered ‘severely unaffordable’ for a single pensioner, meaning up to 60 per cent of their income would go towards rent.

For a single person on benefits, the housing affordability situation is even more dire and is considered ‘extremely unaffordable’, meaning they would have to spend more than 60 per cent of their income on rent.

The RAI does not have information on affordability for these demographics in the 3555 and 3556 postcodes.

For a single parent working part-time or receiving Centrelink, the 3550, 3555 and 3556 postcodes are all unaffordable, with 30 to 38 per cent of their income spent on rent.

Even a pensioner couple would have to spend at least a quarter of the household income on rent across Bendigo.

Ken Marchingo, chief executive officer of Haven; Home, Safe, said that while Bendigo was a “great place” to access the rental and purchase markets for people on average and even minimum wages, availability evaporated as income levels fell.

“As house prices inflate there is a ripple effect of driving people on lower incomes to more affordable rental markets,” Mr Marchingo said.

“An increasing population and increasing numbers of people remaining in these rental markets for longer, also puts extra pressure on remaining rental stocks.

“This creates a ratcheting down effect, where the poorest are continually squeezed out of the market as they are least able to compete on price.”

The service has seen a 21 per cent increase in clients since the same quarter last year, and a 17 per cent increase on last quarter.

More than 90 per cent of Haven; Home, Safe’s clients receive Centrelink payments, and it is believed more than 1300 families and singles are on the Victorian Housing Register waiting list in the Loddon region.

Bendigo also has higher than both state and national averages of one-parent families and single-person households, and more Indigenous people than the Victorian average.

These groups are generally more susceptible to insecure housing because of low incomes, lower education levels and high rates of unemployment.

Mr Marchingo said there was not enough public and social housing, and Bendigo was one of the only major centres lacking a dedicated Youth Foyer (an accommodation facility for young people wanting to study who cannot live at home) or a dedicated crisis housing facility.

Unlike other comparable nations, Mr Marchingo said Australia did not have a national housing strategy, and Victoria had the lowest proportion of public housing in the OECD.

He said retirement, taxation and low income support policies over decades had over-inflated housing markets while public and community housing had diminished.

He said a national, long-term approach was required to relieve the housing situation.

“In the meantime, we need crisis housing options in this town and others for singles, we need a range of crisis housing options for small families, and we do have on the horizon via the state government’s ‘Homes For Victorians’ suite of policies some new supply that we can tap into,” he said.

In its 2018-19 budget submission, the Council to Homeless Persons calls on the Victorian government to build 14,500 new social housing dwellings in the next five years.

A low-income household (that in the lowest 40 per cent of households) is considered to experience housing stress when 30 per cent or more of income is spent on rent.