Low-income families across Orange are being pushed to the brink of homelessness, new research shows, revealing an alarming shortage of affordable rental properties in the city following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid the height of the pandemic, single mother Toni-Maree Thomas and her daughter Kim bore the brunt of that shortage, which was laid bare as Anglicare released its annual Rental Affordability Report this week.
Ms Thomas, who relies on government disability support to survive, was forced to vacate her rental property prior to moratoriums protecting tenants coming into effect. Unable to find an affordable alternative, they were literally left out in the cold.
My daughter and I did end up living in a hotel, I was so stressed, and it was pretty scary for both of us.Toni-Maree Thomas
Ms Thomas and her daughter spent one night in their car before being assisted in securing a hotel stay. It was initially for only a single night, but was extended and their belongings put into storage until appropriate housing became available.
"I was so stressed and it was pretty scary for both of us," Ms Thomas, 28, said.
"It was basically impossible to find a house during the pandemic after I was given three months to vacate. When restrictions were at their tightest a lot of the real estate agents were closed.
"I tried going into the branches but they were closed and I didn't have internet access, whenever we did find anything that was right it was already gone, there was just nothing available.
"It was tough, really tough, I know not everyone in that situation is able to get the help we got too."
With assistance from Anglicare, Ms Thomas and daughter Kim have now found an affordable and safe home, but the data shows the issue is far from restricted solely to the 28-year-old.
Calculating affordability based on 30 per cent of household income, the report revealed that in March just 62 rental properties were available across Orange that were affordable for families, couples or singles receiving support payments.
Zero were deemed affordable for a single mother in Ms Thomas' situation.
The report shows at the same time in 2015 there was almost 250 properties available, which marks an overall decline of 75 per cent, with an average decline of 20 per cent year-to-year.
It points to more than just a housing crisis, Anglicare ACT chief executive Jeremy Halcrow said.
"This shows a deeply flawed system [with] little to no relief on the horizon for low-income families," he said.
He pointed to conclusion of coronavirus supplements, the recent lifting of tenant protections and decentralisation from metropolitan areas as huge factors in the 'heart-breaking' data.
The situation, he said, could result in housing stress and poverty becoming entrenched and distressingly 'normalised' for a growing number of vulnerable families.
"Regional centres like Orange are seeing more people moving there from metro areas like Sydney post-COVID. This has impacted low-income families more than other group as demand for family-size housing has gone through the roof," he said.
"If you don't have a safe and affordable home, every area of your life can be impacted including relationships, employment, study, mental health, physical safety and well-being."
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