Susie Finn has been searching for a rental for more than a year.
Despite having a full-time job as an aged care nurse and a steady income, the single mum has been unable to find a place she and her children aged 8, 6 and 5 can call home.
The 25-year-old moved to Orange from Port Macquarie in September 2020 and initially lived with her sister, thinking it would only take a few weeks to find a place.
She soon realised that wouldn't be the case.
"I applied for house after house. I tried for at least thirty houses and had no luck," she said.
"Sometimes they'd be off the market before I could even even go and view it."
In desperation she turned to local housing provider, Housing Plus, and has now been living in community housing for almost a year.
While grateful to have a roof over her head, she says it's not an ideal situation.
"I'm not comfortable in the area I'm in and the house is very small for me and my children," Ms Finn said.
"I'm trying to find a bigger house so I can get out of housing."
Unfortunately for Susie, and many others like her across the region, the outlook is not good.
Local property manager Hugh Britton, of Peter Fisher Real Estate, says the rental market is as hot as ever: "we're still getting at least 15 applications on a property," he said.
The REINSW's latest Rental Vacancy Rates shows the Central West's vacancy rate remained at 0.5 percent in December, making it the second tightest market in the state after the South Coast.
That figure could worsen in January - traditionally a busy month as people look to secure a rental before the beginning of the new school year.
"This year in particular there are a lot of people moving from Sydney," Mr Britton said, "young professionals moving out for job opportunities at the hospital, mines, schools."
SQM Research data shows a sharp fall in Orange's vacancy rate from December 2019. It hit a record low of 0.1 percent in September 2020 and has remained below 1.0 percent since then.
A vacancy rate of three percent is considered a balanced market.
Scarcity has pushed Orange rental prices up by about 20 per cent in the past 12 months, with the average asking price for a three-bedroom rental home now sitting at $500 per week.
A quick search shows about half of all current rental listings in Orange are $500 or more per week, with the most expensive, a four bedroom home in Catania Street, North Orange, listed for $1500 per week.
Mr Britton said although he believes the city is at the 'back end' of last year's steep price rises, further increases were still likely.
Housing Plus CEO David Fisher said the scarcity of affordable housing was an issue across the entire country.
He said home ownership had declined among all age cohorts, except the over 65s, in recent decades, with would-be home owners staying longer in rented accommodation.
"For some to secure a deposit they are saving by renting low rent properties which would be typically available for low-income families," he said.
"The rental market is now characterised by scarcity and high rents. Add to that a pandemic, with many people no longer moving to metropolitan areas and many city dwellers now relocating to the regions, large infrastructure projects, as well as general population growth and the community is facing difficult times ahead."
"We need a solution that helps homeowners and renters find affordable housing and that allows the economy to grow. Collaboration between governments and a common sense of purpose for the next decade to help our communities prosper by having a stable, secure and affordable home would help."
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