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Gold Coast rental market reveals gender inequality as more women face homelessness

Georgina Wheatley has been searching for long-term accommodation on the Gold Coast. (ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

It may only be short-term, but for Georgina Wheatley and her granddaughter, finding a room to rent in a share house has been "a godsend".

After unexpectedly losing her previous lease about three months ago, Ms Wheatley was pushed back into one of the most expensive and competitive rental markets in Australia, the Gold Coast.

"It's disgusting. It's so bad," she said.

"[People are] offering more rent, so landlords are taking that. They're offering $100 more."

Even though she works five days a week, earning just enough of an income to make her ineligible for the social housing register, the 60-year-old suddenly found herself among one of the fastest growing groups of people at risk of homelessness — older women.

'It can happen to anyone'

Census data shows more than 40 per cent of renters on the Gold Coast are under housing stress, which means they spend at least 30 per cent of their weekly income on rent.

Moreover, rents are $85 higher than the state average.

Ms Wheatley said she would have had to "sleep under a tree" but found room for herself and her nine-year-old granddaughter in a share house reserved for women facing homelessness.

Median weekly rents on the Gold Coast exceeds the national average by $75. (ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

"We scrape by, but we're good," she said.

"It can happen to anyone. It's no fault of mine."

The house is managed by Derek Edgar, whose company rents properties to people at risk of homelessness.

"It's tough out there for everyone, but for the residents we take in, it's a lot more difficult," he said.

"They don't have a bond. They don't savings. They don't have a rent ledger.

"They're probably right down the back of the line."

Vacant houses find new life

Mr Edgar said he managed 11 previously vacant properties leased from developers before renting them out at below-market rates.

"I noticed a lot of unused properties that were going through development applications through council. They usually stay for a year or two, uninhabited," he said.

"They're dry. They've got bathrooms and kitchens in them. I thought that was a waste if they were empty and there were people on the street.

Mr Edgar provides accommodation for those in housing stress through Genesis Housing. (ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

"So I matched those up together by talking directly with the developers and getting the use of their properties for the year or six months."

There are about 162,500 households waiting for social housing nationally, with the federal government planning to build 30,000 social and affordable dwellings within five years.

A report from the Queensland Audit Office in July found 31,000 households were on the state's social housing register, a 78 per cent increase since 2018.

While 6,365 new social housing dwellings will be built by 2025, the agency found that it will not meet demand.

'Manifestation of gender inequality'

Housing minister Leeanne Enoch told estimates hearings last week that "one of the largest growing cohorts of people who were experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness were older women".

She said the state government had committed $14 million to "deliver specialised housing support services to older women".

Queensland Council of Social Services chief executive Aimee McVeigh says, "this is a manifestation of gender inequality that's baked into our society".

Ms McVeigh says there is a need to accelerate supply. (ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

"Many of these woman would never have expected to experience housing insecurity," she said.

"They are often women who have forgone having careers and having their own financial security to look after family and households.

"After family separations, having no superannuation and savings, this is what can happen."

She said while a specialised response for women was "absolutely welcome", there was a "need to accelerate supply" to solve the issue.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said construction will begin on two new projects for housing older women by 2025, with "the location, number of units and the cost to construct" yet to be determined.

Funding has 'no relationship' to need

Ms McVeigh said there could still be more than 50,000 people in Queensland waiting for social housing.

Construction is strong on the Gold Coast but housing demand has outpaced supply. (ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

"If that was a town, it'd be Queensland's fifth biggest town, the size of Gympie," she said.

"This isn't business as usual."

The state government has committed $2.9 billion towards social and affordable housing but according to the Queensland Audit Office, the "[housing department] does not have a model to predict what the register will look like in coming years at state and regional levels".

But Ms McVeigh says without accurate forecasting, "the current level of investment, the current level of commencements and building, bears absolutely no relationship to the scale of the need".

Ms Wheatley cares for her nine-year-old granddaughter, who lives with ADHD and autism. (ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

The state government has accepted all of the Queensland Audit Office's recommendations, which include improving how people transition away from social housing and improved monitoring of the register.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said a review of 98 per cent of the social housing register resulted in, "21 per cent of the households no longer being listed due to being uncontactable or no longer requiring social housing".

Meanwhile, Ms Wheatley said she would continue her search for a new home in the private market.

"Life is like that. It says jump, so you have to jump."

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