Despite the ongoing fall in Sydney rental levels, there are no signs of rental accommodation on the NSW North Coast becoming more affordable or available. According to Vinnies workers, this situation is causing such financial pressure that many families are going without food in order to pay their rent and avoid the risk of becoming homeless.
"High rents are a major contributor to household insecurity, personal stress and the risk of people, including children, slipping into real poverty and even homelessness," St Vincent de Paul Society's regional Executive Officer Michael Timbrell said.
"The North Coast rental market disadvantages many people because the competition for decent and affordable housing greatly outstrips supply.
"The reasons for this crisis are varied, including a general lack of rental stock, many houses in coastal towns becoming holiday rentals, and the need to accommodate workers on the road projects, which results in inflated rents that stay that way after the workers move on," Mr Timbrell said.
Many people encounter difficulties in signing up for a rental, including newcomers who lack a local rental history, people who are desperate because leases have been terminated at short notice, and families with pets.
Calling the lack of affordable housing "a key driver of regional poverty and homelessness," Mr Timbrell added that the situation is unlikely to improve until more social housing is available and more private rental stock comes onto the market. At present, there are few signs of either occurring.
"The regional stats on poverty and homelessness are very disturbing, especially for a region famed for its beauty and relaxed lifestyle," he said.
"According to the Affordable Housing Income Gap report by Compass Housing Services, every Local Government Area (LGA) on the North Coast has a child poverty rate of about 20 per cent. More than 80,000 people in the region experience poverty, and about 40,000 are at risk of it," Mr Timbrell said.
"Five of the six least affordable LGAs for rentals in regional NSW are here, including the 'glamour' area of Byron Shire. The others are Ballina, Clarence Valley, Tweed Shire, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.
"A high number of renters are facing housing stress - one-third or more of household income going to pay rent - and are struggling to cover basics such as food, high power bills and school costs.
"The colder weather is particularly taxing as many rentals are poorly insulated and heating equipment tends to be inefficient and costly."
Mr Timbrell said Vinnies support centres meet with thousands of people at risk of falling through the net:
"Our volunteers report that a lack of food is the single greatest issue, and this often results from people prioritising their rent and utility bills, lest they no longer have a roof over their heads. This means they can't afford enough food, which is particularly tragic when they have young children."
Vinnies continues to advocate for a national housing strategy, the urgent construction of more social and affordable housing, and tax reforms in the housing market.
Locally Vinnies is running its annual Winter Appeal seeking donations to help families and individuals struggling to keep warm, put food on the table and keep their children safe and at school. Tax deductible donations can be made at any Vinnies op shop, for card usage please call (02) 6621 5835 or 13 18 12, or donate online at vinnies.org.au