Regional real estate boom is changing the face of homelessness

Adam Battle, John Battle, Stephenie Battle, Shane Battle, William Feeney, Hannah Feeney, Bronwyn Battle and Rachel Battle are a close family. Photo supplied

Adam Battle, John Battle, Stephenie Battle, Shane Battle, William Feeney, Hannah Feeney, Bronwyn Battle and Rachel Battle are a close family. Photo supplied

With the recent regional Australian real estate boom, the face of homelessness is changing. As investors sell their properties to people wanting to move to town, tenants are being left without rental options.

Rachel Battle and her family having been looking for a place to rent in Gloucester, in NSW's lower Mid North Coast, since being told in February that their landlord was selling the house. The deadline to move was May 22 and the family still has nowhere to go - and they aren't the only ones.

"I know of at least six families in town sleeping on floors, in caravans or on other people's properties," Rachel said.

The Battles need at least a three bedroom, although a four bedroom would be better. There are eight members of the Battle family with six children ranging in ages from two to 25 years. The eldest two aren't living with the family, so they only need a place for six of them. But they've had no luck finding something.

At the time of publication, there were only four houses for rent in the Gloucester region with the four bedroom options listed at $420, $500 and $520 per week - all a major leap in price from the $300 per week the Battle family is currently paying.

This isn't the first time the family has faced a housing issue. In 2007, the then family of five found themselves homeless after having to get out of their rental in Newcastle. It was not long after major flooding caused extensive damage to homes and few houses were available to rent. The family ended up moving in with Rachel's parents.

"The five of us were sleeping on the floor, under tables and in the lounge room," Rachel said.

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It took them five months to find a place and that was in Stratford. Rachel's husband Shane had family in the area and after coming up for a visit, they released that it was much easier to find a family home in the Gloucester region.

They moved into Gloucester town in 2017 into the current property they are renting. It just so happened that Rachel knew the owner and the owner was looking for a tenant. Now the owner needs to sell for personal reasons but agreed to not put the house on the market until the Battle family moves out. Given the family hasn't been able to find a place, they were recently granted an extension on their lease until the middle of July.

"I know we are lucky. Our situation is different than other people in town. For many, the houses have been sold already and they have to move out," Rachel said.

The prospect of being homeless is weighting heavily on all members of the family.

"My 17-year-old has offered to leave school and get a job to help pay rent. A 17-year-old shouldn't be thinking that way," Rachel said.

The stress and uncertainty is causing major tension in the house and Rachel is starting to struggle.

"Everyone is on edge," she said. "In church the other day, I burst out in tears. I just can't hold it in anymore. My skin is falling off with stress related eczema and I have headaches."

Homelessness is not a new issue in Gloucester with many people regularly sleeping rough, coach-surfing or moving in with family. But the lack of availability and the increase in rental prices off the back of the real estate boom is seeing a whole new group of people facing homelessness.

In an emergency, people can go to the Bucketts Way Neighbourhood Group for support or call Link2Home to help get immediate accommodation until something more permanent can be found. But this isn't the situation with the numerous families and individuals calling out on social media for places to rent. Many have good jobs and don't think they are eligible or don't want social housing support.

"We earn too much for (social) housing," Rachel said. "We've been on the list before for 10 years and didn't get a house."

According to the NSW Department of Communities and Justice expected waiting times for social housing in Gloucester as of June 2020 is five to 10 years. And with 36 properties managed by Compass Housing in Gloucester already full, it's not really an option.

Despite this, Compass Housing's acting chief operating officer Gwyn Williams is encouraging those in need of housing to reach out and ask for help by calling 1300 333 733.

This story Regional real estate boom is changing the face of homelessness first appeared on Gloucester Advocate.