What chance does a single mum have? Fierce competition driving up rents in regional Victoria

Michelle Attenborough knew the warning signs of homelessness after moving to Shepparton to help people struggling to make ends meet. The case worker soon realised she ticked many of those boxes herself.

Eight weeks after signing a short-term lease on a $240 per week apartment last February, her landlord sold it and the 49-year-old from Shepparton Families and Financial Services began a gruelling search for a new home.

Michelle Attenborough has had two rent increases since moving to Shepparton last February.Credit:Jason South

“I know the risk factors,” she said. “I’m a single woman over 40 and my demographic represents the largest group who are homeless.”

Ms Attenborough rented a hotel room while furiously applying for tenancies and attending inspections alongside up to 50 other desperate house hunters.

“I had one real estate agent say to me ‘good luck with that. I have a long waiting list’.”

Like many regional Victorians, she worried she might have to move to a smaller town, further away from her work, to afford rent.

It’s a problem that is also plaguing businesses, with restaurants across Victoria struggling to attract staff due to the fierce competition for rentals.

The housing market has boomed since she moved to Shepparton just over a year ago, and equivalent properties to her first unit now cost up to $50 more a week.

House prices in regional Victoria are rising fast with areas with buyers honing in on areas previously considered affordable. Credit:Penny Stephens

Her new unit is $20 a week cheaper but it’s about two-thirds of the size of her first place, has no dishwasher, poor insulation and a tiny bathroom that “you couldn’t swing a cat in”.

To make matters worse, within three weeks of moving into her new apartment, her landlord sold it to an investor, and she’s unsure how long she can stay.

“If I’m struggling, what chance does a single, unemployed mum have?”

Buyers are also flocking to other regional areas and driving up prices rapidly in places such as the Latrobe Valley and Benalla.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan said most demand for regional property lay within a three-hour ring around Melbourne.

But this is impacting regional markets even further out, including Swan Hall and Mildura, with rising prices forcing low-income earners to reconsider whether they can stay in their communities.

“The increase in median house price comes with great joy for some and great stress for others,” Ms Calnan said.

It took Courtney Broadbent seven months to secure a rental property and now the price has just gone up for her current tenancy. Credit:Penny Stephens

In the Latrobe Valley town of Newborough, Courtney Broadbent struggled for seven months to secure a tenancy amid fierce competition and rising rental prices.

Ms Broadbent, 25, has worked full-time in her mother’s Moe cafe since leaving high school and her partner also worked casually in a window-cleaning business although his hours equated to full-time. But they still missed out on many properties.

When she first started looking two years ago, rent for a small house was about $250 a week. She eventually found a two-bedroom unit for $290 but that recently rose to $310.

Ms Broadbent keeps her house fastidiously clean and does not hang pictures to avoid damaging the walls.

She knows good references are crucial to finding future rental properties. “I’ve always felt renting someone else’s house is a privilege,” she said.

Ms Broadbent said many local people are now struggling with rising rents.

“I’ve got family members who moved out of town because it was so expensive here.”

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