Regional housing shortage: Locals left homeless as Airbnb drives up rental prices
A single Queensland mum is counting down the days until she will have to sleep in a tiny car with her three children under the age of 13.
A single mum raising three young boys under the age of 13 is counting down the days until she becomes homeless.
By the end of the month, Amber Thompson, from Noosa in Queensland, will have to squash herself and her sons into her tiny Nissan Micra car to shelter at night-time after they are evicted from their home.
“How do u work if you’re living from a car?” she said to news.com.au.
“How will you be able to go to work?”
The 45-year-old mum has been struggling to find a place to stay even though she has enough money to pay as much as $550 a week upfront for the next 12 months.
A major Queensland housing shortage means Ms Thompson is competing with plenty of others and often rental homes are snapped up within an hour of them being listed.
She is currently staying in a two-bedroom Airbnb for $450 a week, with two of her sons sharing a bed while the third sleeps on a couch.
However, on October 26, they will have nowhere to live as the owner wants to charge $1000 a week for short-term renters coming to the Noosa area on holidays.
It’s part of a wider issue across Australia, with housing shortages cropping up in regional areas as city-slickers buy houses amid the Covid-19 pandemic, driving up prices.
Many homeowners turn their place into a short-term accommodation, utilising Airbnb or similar services, meaning locals can’t compete with the rent that cashed up tourists can offer in peak holiday seasons.
Ms Thompson has been looking for a new place to rent for the last few months, knowing her October 26 deadline is fast approaching.
“I’ve been applying for two months because I knew the date was coming up, still nothing,” she said.
“I feel like I’ve run out of time and I’ve let my children down.”
On multiple occasions, she has cleared her schedule to inspect a rental property only to receive a text a few hours beforehand saying the place is no longer available, she told news.com.au.
One time a property was taken off the market even though she applied as soon as it was listed an hour earlier, she said.
And many properties might start within her budget but very quickly get out of her price range. In one case a real estate agent offered her an apartment for $900 a week even though her absolute maximum was $550.
Ms Thompson is a self-employed cleaner but luckily her husband, who she has been separated from for a few years, sold their home in another part of Queensland, giving her half of the windfall.
“I’ve got this money, all these good references, but it doesn’t seem to matter,” the frustrated mother said.
Her kids, aged seven, 10 and 13, go to a local school in Cooroy but because of the housing shortage, they had to move to Coolum in the Noosa Shire.
In bad traffic, it’s a 50 minute drive each way — which Ms Thompson does every morning and afternoon for school pick-up and drop off.
“I cant view drop my kids off, view, properties, clean and pick my kids up, makes it quite hard,” she said.
On Tuesday she took the day off work so that she could view a property — but by lunch time the real estate agent had already cancelled on her because somebody else was chosen as the tenant.
Ms Thompson went to the office of her local MP, Sandy Bolton, and registered for social housing on Tuesday.
The only other option she can see is moving her family to Caloundra, which is a 1.5 hour drive away from her kids school.
Noosa MP Sandy Bolton said that she gets five or six families every day, like Ms Thompson, coming to her office begging for a home.
“We have so many coming in. It’s been 16 months of a crisis, no-one can really comprehend what we’re dealing with,” Ms Bolton told news.com.au.
Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis, with the Noosa area experiencing a 49 per cent increase in people moving there in 12 months.
However, “a crisis like this doesn’t happen overnight” Ms Bolton pointed out.
“There’s been a shortage of community housing not just in Queensland but across all of Australia.”
As early as four years ago Ms Bolton said Noosa started feeling the effects of short-term accommodations such as Airbnb and simply people renting out their homes for short intervals.
This phenomenon drives out essential workers such as cleaners and waitresses, as their pay is relatively low but they are still crucial to the functioning of the economy.
As Noosa is a “high visitation and tourism area”, Ms Bolton says she’s seen a lot of anecdotal evidence of houses being converted purely into short term accommodation.
It’s not the only regional town in the midst of a crisis.
Apollo Bay, in southwestern Victoria, is also feeling the housing crunch thanks to short-term accommodation and the Covid-19 pandemic forcing families to leave the area.
Housing shortage also hits Victoria
Bob Knowles, President of the Apollo Bay Chamber of Commerce, is part of a task force looking to severely restrict the presence of short-term accommodation, especially Airbnbs.
Locals are finding that in the summer months there is nowhere to live — as homeowners rent out their properties to holiday-goers to make more money than they would from a long-term rental.
Mr Knowles told news.com.au “Locals can’t afford to buy a property because prices have rocketed. If there’s no rental properties for young families, they have to go elsewhere.
“It’s a perfect storm.”
This had a very real consequence for Kat Skarbek’s family of four who had to leave Apollo Bay and relocate to the more expensive Melbourne back in July, simply because they couldn’t find anywhere to live.
The mum-of-two had to pull her kids, aged 11 and 14, out of school as they were forced to leave their community behind.
“There was literally nowhere to rent in the whole of Apollo Bay,” Ms Skarbek told news.com.au.
In January, they were homeless for a month, paying turbocharged holiday rates for a cottage in the beachside town.
Luckily, they found another rental property that would take them for six months.
However, for the entire time they stayed there, the Skarbek weren’t able to find anywhere else to live.
They even went to extreme lengths to stay as they loved the people and the area so much.
“We sold our house in Melbourne to buy in Apollo Bay,” the 51-year-old mother explained.
“But it just became impossible to buy there.
“Prices went from $700-800,000 to way over a million, they were worth 700,800 but going over a million.
“That’s a huge amount of money for a family of four and we’re on a decent income.”
Professor Hal Pawson, Associate Director at UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre, said this was an issue being felt in basically every regional hub across all of Australia.
“The real concern in all this is the situation of the many renters in regional Australia who were already in a ‘housing affordability stress’ situation before the pandemic … (and) are going to be placed at greater risk as a result of increased pressure on the local housing market,” he previously told news.com.au.
Prof Pawson said there were three factors jacking up house prices, especially in regional areas.
ABS data shows that people are pouring out of capital cities in search of more space and an escape from the threat of lockdowns, with 10,000 people every quarter leaving metropolitan areas – the highest number ever recorded.
Cashed up professionals are looking further afield because the Covid-inspired working from home model has made it possible to work remotely, according to the professor.
And finally, he also believes “economic shock” from the pandemic has caused there be to more demand but less supply of housing, sending prices sky high.
“It’s not just a certain number of people, it’s the kinds of people we’re talking about as well,” he explained.
He said the kinds of people that have flocked to the countryside have work that is “mobile” and “generally higher paying jobs”.