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Australia housing crisis: Mum’s rental nightmare forces her to live in a van

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A single mother has embarked on her three-month nightmare living in a van after being priced out of her house during Australia’s housing crisis.

Martelle Jackson, 28, refused to renew her lease on an estate near Wollongong, south of Sydney, in late 2020 when her landlord initially raised the rent by $40 a week.

Little did she know that the country was struggling with a housing crisis and she found it impossible to live anywhere.

“I thought I was only going to live in the van for a week or two and I hadn’t planned it long term at all,” Martelle told FEMAIL, describing the experience as “horrible.”

She would bathe in the cold ocean every morning in the middle of winter and wake up at 5 a.m. to pee on the side of the road when no one was around.

Martelle Jackson (pictured) lived in a van for three months after struggling to get a new rental home

The now 28-year-old described the homelessness experience as

The now 28-year-old described the homelessness experience as “horrific” as she bathed in the frigid ocean every morning and woke up at 5am to pee on the side of the road when no one was around (Photo: Martelle with her daughter )

“After being knocked back for quite a few houses, I called my real estate agent and asked if I could stay until I found somewhere because I was afraid of becoming homeless and my daughter would have to live with her father,” Martelle said.

‘She (the broker) said, ‘You have to do what you have to do. I’ll give you an extra week and that’s it.’ After I left, they raised the rent by nearly $100 a week.”

She then began offering an extra $10 to $20 a week for job applications and prepaid rent to get ahead of other applicants.

Originally from England, Martelle had no family to lean on, so her four-year-old daughter stayed at her ex-partner’s house.

In the van, which she spontaneously bought in 2019, Martelle had a bed, fridge, sink and a fan – but no shower, wifi or toilet.

She parked her car at several parks and beaches, but often feared for her safety.

“I had to drive to a different area a few times at night because I felt uncomfortable or unsafe,” she said.

‘It was terrible, and I had mechanical problems with the van – the window was leaking and I got a bad flu in the winter.

“My daughter was my saving grace as I did everything I could to get a rental home and be back at her home. I still saw her every day, but it wasn’t the same, I missed the little things.’

Originally from England, she had no family to support during the difficult times and so her four-year-old daughter stayed with her ex-partner.

Originally from England, she had no family to support during the difficult times and so her four-year-old daughter stayed with her ex-partner.

How to negotiate for a cheaper rent?

1. Do your research on rental prices in the area

2. Check your rental agreement

3. Be prepared with exactly what you’re going to ask

4. Put your request in writing and state how much you are willing to pay

Source: realestate.com.au

Martelle said she would often feel like a “burden” to others and wondered how she got into the situation in the first place.

She was not working at the time and studied music at TAFE.

She was supposed to inspect three or four rental properties a day, but was rejected 48 times for being a single mother without a job.

“The inspections were always busy with up to 50 people and brokers didn’t give me a chance – nobody would consider me a family,” she said.

“I felt defeated in the end, but knew I had to keep going.”

In her spare time, she learned to play the guitar and practiced the piano, all in the van.

In the van, which she bought spontaneously in 2019, Martelle had a bed, fridge, sink and a fan, but no shower, wifi or toilet

In the van, which she bought spontaneously in 2019, Martelle had a bed, fridge, sink and a fan, but no shower, wifi or toilet

Martelle received support from Centrelink and charities including Orange Sky and Hope Street Youth & Family Services.

She felt comforted after being offered small but important gestures that made a world of difference, including hot showers, breakfast and laundry service.

After the 49th application, Martelle was finally accepted for a beautiful rental house with a beautiful view of the lake.

“I got all my furniture out of storage and really have my mojo back,” she said.

Martelle believes ‘everything happens for a reason’ – and now owns The Shave Cave barbershop in Port Kembla, NSW.

After the 49th application, Martelle was finally accepted for a beautiful rental house with beautiful lake view

After the 49th application, Martelle was finally accepted for a beautiful rental house with beautiful lake view

“I set up, painted, decorated the whole store myself, and now we’re coming to our one-year anniversary,” she said.

“I really turned my life around and now my next big goal is saving for a house.”

Martelle said she “grew up a lot” during the three months on the street and that she was “amazed at her own strength”.

“Luckily I didn’t have any mental health issues, which really shocked me, but I think I did what I had to do,” she said.

Martelle now owns The Shave Cave hair salon in Port Kembla

Martelle now owns The Shave Cave hair salon in Port Kembla

“I trusted the process and think everything happens for a reason – I wouldn’t have opened my shop if I hadn’t experienced this.”

Today, Martelle’s shop coordinates with Youth & Family Services to give vouchers to homeless people for free haircuts and blow dryers.

“It’s the little things that make the biggest difference when you experience something like this,” she said.

To check your eligibility for rental assistance, visit Services Australia here.

If your current situation is causing stress or affecting your mental health, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 24/7 on 1300 224 636.

How much has the rent increased in the past year?

SYDNEY: Increase from 17.1 percent to $766.70 per week

MELBOURNE: Increased 6.5 percent to $547.10 per week

BRISBANE: 19.5 percent up to $570.80 per week

PERTH: Up 13.7 percent to $575.70 per week

ADELAIDE: Up 15.6 percent to $494.40 per week

CANBERRAE: Increased 16.4 percent to $768.30 per week

DARWIN: Up 4.7 percent to $611.10 per week

HOBART: 4.5 percent up to $511 per week

Source: SQM Research median weekly home rental data with annual increases in the year to March 12, 2022

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