Unable to find a place to rent, Perth mum will become homeless today
Perth mother-of-two Justine McGovern doesn't know where she will sleep tonight.
After six frantic and fruitless months of searching for a place to rent, the 55-year-old will join Australia's growing number of homeless today.
"I would never have believed that this would happen to me at my age," McGovern told 9news.com.au.
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All week, McGovern has been sorting out her belongings and putting them in storage, getting ready for today, when she will be forced to vacate the rundown house she has been renting in Thornlie, in Perth's south-west, since September.
The house and its two neighbours on either side have been sold, ready to make way for a new development.
McGovern and her ex-husband normally share custody of their two teenage daughters equally, but now – as she has no place to live – they will move in full-time with their father.
Over the last few weeks, McGovern said she had reached out to various agencies to be assessed for emergency accommodation, but was yet to hear back on whether there was anything to offer her.
Now, her terrifying deadline is suddenly here and she is struggling to cope with the stress.
"I've realised in the last 24 hours that I've actually got the shakes quite badly," McGovern said.
"I'm an insomniac at the best of times, but I think I only slept for one hour last night."
READ MORE: 'It's hell': Renters being 'cooked from above' in sweltering homes
Without a car to shelter in, McGovern said she was struggling to come up with options of where to sleep.
"I'm terrified of ending up in a homeless shelter, to be honest," she said.
"I'm having visions of sleeping at the airport as that seems to be the safest option if it comes down to it."
The rising homeless
McGovern is one of many who have slipped into homelessness recently on the back of a national cost-of-living, housing and rental crisis.
The number of homeless in Australia has risen 8 per cent in the four years from 2017-18 to 2021-22, according to the latest report from Australian Homelessness Monitor.
A Productivity Commission report, released in August last year, acknowledged homelessness was fundamentally tied to housing affordability.
A confluence of high inflation, surging interest rates, and a lack of supply has made renting a home more unaffordable than ever.
In Perth, the vacancy rate for rental properties is currently at a record low of 0.7 per cent.
Have you been affected by the rental crisis? Contact reporter Emily McPherson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week, the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia (REIWA) released figures estimating the state will need an extra 18,000 – 20,000 new rental properties in order to meet demand.
Perth's median rent price has surged by $85 per week in the last 12 months to February, up to $535 per week.
"Demand continues to exceed supply across Perth and, under current conditions, we expect to see more price increases in coming months," REIWA CEO Cath Hart said.
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Meanwhile, the wait times for social housing have blown out to more than two years in WA, with a backlog of 19,000 applications.
There are 4000 households on the public housing priority list, with an average wait time of 43 weeks.
McGovern, who is living on the Jobseeker allowance, said she was hoping to find work so she could afford to pay more for a rental, but trying to secure housing had been a full time job lately.
Having worked on and off part-time while her children were young, McGovern said she was unable to work for several years when one of her daughters fell ill with a rare condition called aplastic anaemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.
McGovern was paying $380 rent per week at the home she is about to vacate. Now, she is inspecting properties advertised at $420 a week, the extreme upper end of her affordability limit.
But with large crowds attending every inspection, McGovern said rentals were rarely going for the advertised price.
"You go to viewings for houses advertised at $420 a week, and you can clearly hear other people looking at it and saying we'll give you $600 to the real estate agent."
'It's the Hunger Games out there'
Rent bidding – where real estate agents solicit or invite offers above the advertised price for a property – is illegal in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT.
Last month, South Australia announced it will also outlaw the practice as part of upcoming rental reforms. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory the practice is still allowed.
However, in states where rent bidding is banned, real estate agents can still accept higher offers of rent from prospective tenants.
In NSW, concerns have also been raised about whether real estates have been ignoring the new rent bidding rules, which were introduced at the end of last year.
Last week, data from the NSW Office of Fair Trading revealed almost 1000 rental advertisements were found to have potentially breached the new laws.
In a bid to address the runaway price of rentals, the Australian Greens have been calling on the Federal Government to introduce a rent freeze, similar to what was in place during the pandemic, saying in December that Australians would have been $10.7 billion better off if rents had been frozen nationwide for the past 12 months.
Perth man AJ Halliday said he spent a "traumatic" start to the year looking for a new place to live when he was told his weekly rent would be increasing by $100 to $550 per week – a 22 percent hike.
"I would sit for hours online on all sites booking inspections for houses, apartments, one bedders and anything I could manage with my budget – there wasn't a lot of room to move, even looking out of town wasn't much different," he said.
"I went to other inspections where almost 50 people turned up, and offers were made in excess of $250 a week extra on a market listed price of $450."
"It's the Hunger Games out there."
Eventually, to Halliday's immense relief, he managed to negotiate with his landlord to hold off on increasing his rent for the next two years.
But the scarring experience led Halliday to start an online petition this week, calling for rent bidding to be banned nationwide.
Halliday said real estate agents should be bound by the prices they advertised rentals for and barred from accepting higher offers.
A spokesperson for WA's Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety said: "While there is no current legislation relating to rent bidding in WA, there are circumstances in which the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) could apply to the advertising of rent prices and Commerce Minister Sue Ellery has asked for advice on how this can be applied.
"Consumer Protection can investigate, where there is evidence, that a landlord or agent is advertising a property for a set amount of rent and subsequently requires the prospective tenant/s to pay an amount higher than the advertised price."
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at email@example.com.
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