A 44-year-old single mum who runs her own successful business and has an impeccable rental record is now homeless after failing to find a place for herself and three kids.
Heather* became another victim of the Illawarra's rental crisis last week when she was forced to find emergency accommodation at a caravan park in Towradgi.
Her savings have been wiped out by the $4000 fortnightly stay and she's afraid to think what's next.
"I'm scared, I'm really scared, but I've just got to keep pushing," Heather said.
"I'm applying and applying and applying for rentals, but there are so many people looking.
"I went to a viewing the other day and there were like 60 people standing in the rain to look at this house so it's not making me feel hopeful.
"I don't know what's going to happen because I can't keep paying $4000 for two weeks, I don't have that money.
"If I don't get something soon I'm scared I'm going to lose my business and my kids because I'm not providing a stable environment for them and everything I fought so hard to get will be for nothing."
Housing won't help me because I earn too much, but I'm not good enough for the private rental market.
Heather's housing nightmare began when her rental of two years was sold.
The new owners wanted the place "for their own purposes" and she was asked to move out.
While that property remains empty as it undergoes renovations, Heather has been unable to find another home for her family, despite applying for more than 50 rentals.
Because of her income she's not eligible for public housing, yet she can't catch a break in the private sector.
"Housing won't help me because I earn too much, but I'm not good enough for the private rental market," she said.
"My affordability is $550, I've never had bond taken off me, I've always paid my rent on time, and I even got a refund from my last one for paying over so, even with all of that, I'm still being looked at as someone who doesn't deserve a chance."
Tyler Filippi of MMJ Wollongong real estate agency has witnessed firsthand the increasing desperation of locals as hordes of Sydneysiders, no longer chained to their office desks, continue to migrate to Wollongong.
So many city-dwellers are seeking cheaper rents here that they now represent 50 per cent of the real estate agent's market.
The other half are locals and, in the $350 to $450 price bracket, Mr Filippi described demand as "intense".
"It's highly competitive," Mr Filippi said.
"There's a lot of people looking for a place, a lot of single mums, and I understand that desperate need because I have a family myself, so it affects me personally.
"Some have been looking for a place for two years and they've had to stay in a hotel until they secure a place and it's heartbreaking to see."
Mr Filippi said it's a common misconception that the agent gets to "pick and choose" the successful tenant.
"It's always the owner's decision," he said.
"The agent doesn't get to decide - we give everyone a fair chance and let the owner decide because it's their property."
He said tenants are driving the market up by offering more money than the advertised price.
"Some are so desperate they're offering rent three months, six months and even 12 months in advance as one lump sum because they think that will guarantee them the property.
"But that's not the way to go, it won't entice most owners," he said.
"They want the staggered payments, and consistency every week."
Mr Filippi said proof of income was the single biggest factor in selecting a tenant, with rental history coming in second.
"Proof of income is the big one, a weekly pay and consistency is what gives them the owner confidence."
"What we're looking at is affordability.
"Someone's budget might be $300 but they're offering $350 because they think it will give them a better chance at securing the property, but they can't stretch their budget that far."
On paper, Heather's a self-employed, sole income earner with dependents and a note to call her accountant in lieu of weekly pay slips.
With scores of competing applicants able to tick every box, she's afraid she doesn't stand a chance.
"I even had a property manager show me around a place and we talked about it, and he goes 'I'll get back to you Monday or Tuesday at the latest'.
"I rang him on Tuesday and he said 'I haven't heard anything from the landlord yet, I'll let you know, hopefully you'll hear something by tomorrow.'
"Then I saw that it's been put up for another viewing.
"I've taken every avenue I can to try to get something but I must look like a liability to potential landlords - and yet I'm very capable of paying the rent.
"I can do this, I've done everything right. I can do this but there's not enough houses."
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