Finding a rental property is super tough, damn expensive, and extremely competitive. On top of study, work and trying to figure out how the heck to be an adult, finding somewhere to live is a massive source of stress for young people.
For many of us, living with family as we pursue independent adult lives is not an option. As someone who grew up in a regional area, moving out of home was the next step after graduating high school. And for some of my friends, living independently was something they had to tackle even earlier. For me, hauling my belongings to the big city of Melbourne was an exciting and refreshing exercise but for many people this can be a massively emotional and isolating process.
Simply making the choice to get up and go is tough enough, but competing for a spot in a share house or applying for your own rental property is an equally tricky game. I’ve pursued every option under the sun to land myself a room, from trawling through Facebook groups, seeking out opportunities with friends of friends, creating accounts on sharehouse sites, to going to house inspections and dealing with real estate agents. I have moved between rentals a total of 15 times (4x in Sydney, 11x in Melbourne) in the 5 years since I first left my family home. I’m a seasoned pro, so to speak.
I’ve relocated this many times for a lot of different reasons — roofs have fallen in (literally), property owners decided to sell, someone’s brother wanted a room and I was the first to get booted, relationships have combusted, or I’ve not been able to afford to continue living in certain places (looking at you, Sydney).
Seeking a room in or outside of the formal rental market (by which I mean being on or off the lease) is equal parts unstable, stressful, and costly. Plus you’re competing with every other young person in your city who wants something affordable, safe, in a good location and with minimal bathroom mold.
And sadly, my story isn’t a unique one. Nina is one of my friends and coworkers at FYA and she’s had equally rocky experiences.
“I think I’m at number 17, and there’s been some shockers. Technically I’ve only been on a lease about four or five times — it’s just not always an option. I can’t even pick my worst rental experience because there are so many! I got booted out of a warehouse where I was living with 13 other people. Not only was it illegal because it was commercial zoning, but the walls were also crafted from fabric and plywood. After the council found out and evicted us, I had nowhere to go and started living in my friend’s broken down station wagon in his carport. The front seats were my wardrobe and the back seats were my bed. After, I moved into a share house with two random dudes off Gumtree. The guys were ok, but we got evicted suddenly and one of them stole my bond. Then I moved into a house in a rural suburb (the rent was cheap) but there was one bus to town that only ran three times a day during the week and I consequently failed my first year of uni. I moved back to the city into a share house that was full of rats and stacks of dirty dishes. I lived in a house that got robbed all the time, and once I had a room above a takeaway shop that made all my stuff smell like burgers. Now I’ve managed to settle into a great spot, but I’m still dealing with housemate issues and walls that cry inside when it rains.”
For most of my post-school life I have studied and received Centrelink benefits to get by, coupled with casual jobs. I’ve since taken on a few entry-level positions and started earning a modest salary but this certainly hasn’t made house hunting any easier, considering I’m still paying off the debts I racked up when I moved out for the first time back when I was 18. With young people taking an average of 2.6 years to land steady jobs after studying and housing prices at an all time high, I struggle to see how most young Australians will ever escape the hamster wheel of paying too much for impermanent, shared, and often poorly maintained rental properties.
Each year, Anglicare put out a Rental Affordability Report and in 2018 the results are shocking. A rental property is considered “affordable” if it costs no more than 30% of an individual’s income, anything more than that is considered to put a high level of financial stress on a person. Of more than 67,365 properties reviewed on the Australian rental market in March 2018 just 7 properties in the whole country were considered affordable if you are receiving Newstart or Youth Allowance benefits from Centrelink. If you’re earning minimum wage your odds are marginally better with just 1952 properties considered affordable (a tiny 2.9% of the rental market).
Something’s gotta change. Maybe that means a shift in average rental prices (I’ll keep dreaming), tighter regulations on maintenance and quality of buildings, options to sign on to leases longer than 6 or 12 months, and a reduced stigma around young people being “risky renters”. Or even more pathways for young people to become first home owners such as co-ownership models and more developments that have a focus on building sustainable, functional and affordable homes for single young people. I’m not sure how or where I can start to change these systems, all I know is that my options are limited and I’ll be spinning in my hamster wheel for a little while yet.