Renters feeling the squeeze in Ferntree Gully

If you’re finding it harder and harder to pay the rent for your Ferntree Gully home, chances are you’re not alone.

Renting a home in Ferntree Gully is largely unaffordable for people on a minimum wage or welfare payments, despite the suburb being one of the most affordable places to live in metropolitan Melbourne.

In a snapshot of rental affordability conducted by Anglicare Victoria this year, there was just one rental listing in the Knox local government area that was affordable and appropriate for a person living on welfare payments. It was a room in a share house.

This effectively meant there were no affordable and appropriate housing options for families living on welfare payments. 

The costs are not much easier to manage for people living on minimum wages or low incomes from part time or casual work.

Anglicare Victoria’s measure of affordability is for rent to be no more than 30% of the household budget. However, Amy Youl, Program Manager for Community Services for Anglicare Victoria’s Eastern Region, said it was common to see people paying as much as 50% to 75% of their income on housing.

‘For people on welfare support, it can be even higher than that,’ she said, ‘The amount they are spending on a private rental can be close to all of their income.’

Rents in the Gully are less affordable than ever

A search of rentals available on on 1 June revealed just eight Ferntree Gully homes listed for less than $400 per week. 

Data from the Real Estate Institute of Victoria shows median rental prices in Ferntree Gully at $440 per week for houses and $403 per week for units. Both are slightly lower than the median for Melbourne metropolitan.

According to Anglicare Victoria, competition is intense for any affordable homes and they can attract dozens of applications. It is not uncommon for people to offer more than the weekly rental listed.

For many low income renters, it is only resourcefulness and sacrifice that are keeping them from homelessness. Amy said people were accumulating high levels of debt trying to meet housing costs.

‘We see people signing up to leases they can’t afford, and although they’re able to make it work for a short period of time by selling household items or going without, it’s not sustainable,’ she said.

Amy said people were making sacrifices in a range of areas from food shopping to swimming lessons to keep a roof over their heads.

She said it was particularly hard for people with children, because options like a backyard bungalow or a room in a share house aren’t appropriate. And if they find a suitable home, it can be tough to get a lease.

‘Landlords who are relying on rental payments to supplement their own income are not likely to take a chance on a single mum with two children when they can rent the property to a professional couple with no children who are earning good salaries,’ she said.

She said the high cost of home rental was forcing people to take desperate measures.

‘People are either being driven out of their community to find accommodation somewhere else, although that’s not as easy as it once was, or they’re taking more drastic measures like living in their car or staying with friends and family.’

The problem is, although Ferntree Gully is unaffordable for anyone on welfare payments, and the costs are a challenge for those living on minimum wages, it’s in one of the top 10 most affordable areas of metropolitan Melbourne. There’s also a serious lack of affordable housing in regional Victoria.

Amy explained that with more people working from home and not needing to be close to the city, they were moving out to regional areas for better work life balance, restricting the availability of rental homes there. In addition, short term or holiday rentals were becoming increasingly popular with regional landlords at the expense of permanent leases.

Anglicare Victoria provides financial counselling services to anybody experiencing financial hardship. Amy encouraged anyone under housing pressure to make contact with their Box Hill team on 9896 6322 or with the Outer Eastern Financial Counselling program run by EACH on 9871 1825 for support and advice. 

They can help with talking to landlords about setting up payment plans and managing arrears, as well as providing more general advice on ways to achieve longer term financial stability. 

During the height of Covid last year, demand for their financial counselling services was quieter than usual, but they are expecting a new wave of demand with JobKeeper no longer available and JobSeeker payments reduced.

‘Last year, we saw some people who had always experienced financial hardship suddenly having a bit of breathing space,” she said. ‘But now those people are going back to financial hardship and they’ll be joined by many others who have lost employment during Covid and built up debts trying to keep up with their rent payments.’

She added they were yet to see the full flow on effects of the end to the moratorium on rents and arrears.

‘A lot of the time those agreements meant the renter took a break from paying for a time, but they still owe that money to the landlord,’ she explained. 

‘For someone who struggles to pay their rent, it’s not actually that helpful.’

Public housing is another option for those struggling with the housing squeeze.

‘Unfortunately, the wait list is astronomical, so you could fill out the application and all of your kids could have graduated high school before you actually get a place,’ Amy said.

While the majority of the 10,000 odd homes in Ferntree Gully and Upper Ferntree Gully are owned or being purchased, there are also around 1,200 privately rented homes and 240 homes in the public housing system.

Knox Council has joined 12 other councils in Melbourne’s east and south east to advocate for urgent action on social housing. They estimate that an additional 900 social housing dwellings will be needed in Knox by 2036 to house those most at risk. 

Ferntree Gully locals have access to a range of support services in the community to assist in tough times, including community meals, food relief, free showers and washing machine sessions. Crisis accommodation is available for people fleeing domestic violence on 1800 825 955 or 1800 015 188 for women and children experiencing family violence.

Community services

  • Housing support: Knox Infolink on 9761 1325 or Community Housing Ltd on 1300 245 468.
  • Free laundry service: Orange Sky at Knox Infolink, 136 Boronia Road, Boronia, Mondays between 10am and 12pm
  • Free showers: Rowville Community Centre, Mondays and Thursdays between 11am and 1pm. Transport is available from Knox Infolink in Boronia to Rowville Community Centre, but must be booked in advance.
  • Community meals: Foothills Community Care, Wednesday nights from 5:15pm to 6:30pm at the Ferntree Gully Guide Hall on Underwood Road.
  • Emergency food relief: ADRA Community Care, Monday afternoons, Railway Ave, Upper Ferntree Gully and The Salvation Army, Wednesday mornings, Wattleview Road, Ferntree Gully. 

Affordable rental listings, March 2021, Australia wide

Household typeIncomePercentage of affordable rental listings
Couple with two children, one aged less than five, one aged less than 10JobSeeker payments (both adults)0.4%
Couple with two children, one aged less than five, one aged less than 10Minimum wage + FTB A14.3%
Single with two children, one aged less than five, one aged less than 10Parenting payment0.1%
Single with two children, one aged less than five, one aged less than 10Minimum wage + FTB A and B1%
Single, one child aged over eightJobSeeker payment0.1%
CoupleAged pension2%
SingleAged pension0.5%
SingleJobSeeker payment or Youth Allowance0%
Single    Minimum wage1.2%

Source: Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot National Report, April 2021. 

Anglicare’s rental affordability snapshot calculates income for different household types, including rent assistance and family tax benefits, to determine the maximum affordable rent. This is compared with suitable properties for each household type listed on on 27 March 2021. 

Kathryn Loader

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