Sky has been to more than 50 house inspections in Melbourne’s outer south in the past three months, looking for a new private rental for her and her five children.
She is paying $520 a week for her current four-bedroom house, which is about half her income on a single parent carer allowance, so she can’t afford to pay much more.
She said most four-bedroom houses in the Frankston area, where she’s been looking, are going for at least $560 a week.
The 38-year old starts crying when she describes the broken lock on the back door, the tiny rooms and the lack of heating or cooling at her current house.
“I’ve got my children asking for a new home, [saying] ‘Mum I don’t feel safe in this home’,” she said.
She said there were at least 30 people at each inspection she had been to across Melbourne’s outer south and south-east, suburbs where rent has traditionally been below Melbourne’s average.
“These are people with incomes that have been trying the same as myself, trying for months and still not getting anywhere because of the price of it,” she said.
Like many others, Sky has noticed the price of other things going up, too.
She can rattle off the cost increases for every household expense, from cordial to rice crackers, and said she only ate one proper meal a day so she had enough for her children.
She can’t afford an internet connection, so she brings her children with special needs to Community Services Frankston (CSF) to use the internet for their medical appointments.
“I have to put my hand up and say ‘have you got any fruit and veg, have you got anything for recesses please?’, because I just haven’t been able to do it,” she said.
CSF manager Steve Phillips said the organisation helped more than 10,000 people a year, and that number was rising.
“The vast majority of people we see can’t work, and the payments they receive don’t cover basic living expenses, and what do we see? The basic expenses are going up,” he said.
“It’s getting worse, it’s getting scary.”
He said all that leaves less money for housing.
Hundreds of people needing legal help
Frankston is in the marginal electorate of Dunkley, which takes in the outer Melbourne bayside suburbs of Frankston, Seaford and Mt Eliza and the outer suburban areas of Carrum Downs and Langwarrin.
It is held by the ALP’s Peta Murphy, with a 2.7 per cent margin.
The Liberal candidate is Sharn Coombes, a barrister and former contestant on the reality TV program Survivor.
Data from the National Growth Areas Alliance (NGAA) found 52% of Victoria’s outer suburbs residents are struggling to pay at least one bill, leaving them in what the NGAA calls ‘financial survival mode’.
That compared to 21% of outer suburbs residents nationally.
At the Peninsula Community Legal Centre, chief executive Jackie Galloway said an increasing number of people in Dunkley were falling behind on their rent.
“It is getting worse,” she said.
“Rents are rising, the cost of living is increasing, we’re not seeing wage growth and so people are really really struggling to sustain their homes.”
Data from Tenancy Victoria backs that up.
The peak body for renters has handled 331 tenancy legal matters in Dunkley in the past year, with 15 per cent of cases facing eviction.
Tenants Victoria’s director of community engagement Farah Farouque said most of those were in private rental.
“The electorate of Dunkley has traditionally included some of the more particularly affordable rental offerings in Victoria, but what we’re seeing is a tightening of rental markets across the country,” she said.
Last month, the ABC reported the rental market across the country grew 4.7% in March, due to a lack of stock.
Housing costs rising across the market
For those looking to buy a house, and escape the rental market, the prospect is not much brighter.
Stu Anderson counts himself pretty lucky — he owns a unit in Frankston and lives in a secure rental with his wife and three children.
The couple have been looking to buy a house, but he said buyers had been attracted to the bigger blocks and proximity to the beach during the pandemic, pushing up prices.
“It’s gone through the roof over the COVID period and I don’t see them getting any cheaper,” he said.
“Knock-down houses are going for a million dollars.”
There is even a high-end apartment building going up overlooking the Frankston foreshore, which locals say is a first.
Push for rail extension
Infrastructure also rates highly for voters around Dunkley.
The Committee for Frankston has been lobbying for an extension of the electric rail line past Frankston, to Baxter.
The committee’s chief executive, Ginevra Hosking, said the extension was first proposed 92 years ago, and there was bipartisan support at the last two elections, but nothing had been done.
“We actually support a population the size of Canberra, and yet we’re quibbling over 5 kilometres of track,” she said.
he said the proposed extension would connect the train line to Frankston Hospital and Monash University’s Peninsula campus, as well as connecting to 23,800 residents of Langwarrin, and more than 160,000 residents on the Mornington Peninsula.
“We need a better way for the state and federal governments to function better, to understand the problems that are in outer suburbs like Frankston,” Ms Hosking said.