A desperate mum of five has no option but to stay in a motel for $700 per week, after 40 rent applications declined

No alternative: Oceania Harris has been unable to find an appropriate rental for herself and her kids since she started searching in May last year. Picture: Oceana Harris.
No alternative: Oceania Harris has been unable to find an appropriate rental for herself and her kids since she started searching in May last year. Picture: Oceana Harris.

A woman and her five children have been left no other option but to share one bed in a motel room for $700 per week, as a housing crisis continues in the South West.

Oceania Harris has been unable to find an appropriate rental for herself and her children since she started searching in May last year.

Ms Harris said she viewed multiple rentals per week, but her applications were consistently turned down as she competed with 30-60 other applicants for each place.

In total, she has had at least 40 renting applications declined.

"I've tried every house rental in Busselton," she said.

"I've even considered two or three bedroom houses. Even though it's not suitable for me and my kids, but it is desperate at the moment. My five kids and I are sleeping on a double bed.

"I've exhausted every possible avenue and don't know what to do or where to go," she said.

Ms Harris is currently on the Department of Housing priority list for public housing, but living in the South West means she still has a wait time of 35 weeks.

She isn't alone in the mission impossible task to find an affordable home.

The Department of Communities confirmed that as of 28 February 2022, there were 1357 applications on the public housing waitlist for the South West and Peel.

Out of this number, 139 were priority-listed.

Department of Communities spokesman Glenn Mace told the Mail that waitlist applicants may be living in severely overcrowded or inappropriate accommodation.

"Most applicants have a roof over their head while they wait to be housed. However, many of these applicants may be experiencing housing stress, paying more to access their house than is affordable and forgoing other essentials such as food, clothing or education," he said.

Ms Harris has sought advice from mental health and social support workers, called several non-profit organisations and reached out to local refuges, but no organisation has been able to help.

Oceania Harris is currently on the Department of Housing priority list, with a wait period of five years before she can expect to be housed. Picture: Oceania Harris.

Oceania Harris is currently on the Department of Housing priority list, with a wait period of five years before she can expect to be housed. Picture: Oceania Harris.

"I've tried every caravan park, motel and hotel and everywhere is booked and doesn't do long term," she said.

"The refuges advised I have too many kids."

With one child in day care, three in primary school and one in high school, the working mother said the constant battle for a home had been a strain on her mental health, with depression and low self-esteem adding to her struggles.

"I sleep on a double bed with five children and already suffer from chronic back complications," she said.

"This is not right, my son sleeping in a bed with his mother and four sisters. Living in an overcrowded place just to have a roof over our heads."

Coming from a long line of Aboriginal families with ancestors originating in Busselton, Ms Harris said she was desperate for a chance to live comfortably on her home land.

"Every house we now go to, there are between 30 and 60 people at one time. And I know for a fact that there are people saying if they get chosen for the house, they're happy to pay six months in advance," she said.

"So home owners are choosing these people before other people like me with five kids who are really desperate."

Real Estate Institute WA (REIWA) vice-president Joe White said that while the state continued to experience a housing shortage, those on the margins suffered the most.

"Ultimately market forces will prevail. If you have five applicants for one property, there is always the temptation for someone to offer more, to make their application more attractive."

REIWA vice-president Joe White says more houses, and more social housing are needed to help people facing homelessness. Picture: File Image.

REIWA vice-president Joe White says more houses, and more social housing are needed to help people facing homelessness. Picture: File Image.

"That makes it very difficult on someone who simply doesn't have the money."

Mr White told the Mail that there was no solution for people in Ms Harris' situation on the private market, and that the crisis required a higher supply of social housing as well as more housing in general.

"This market is making it very hard for those living on the margins. We need to target social housing.

"The welfare system needs to target this so that those people are not left homeless."

Ms Harris' family is not the only one struggling to find housing.

Housing Choices general manager Natalie Sangalli, said there were about 17,000 people on the waitlist for social and affordable housing in WA.

The average wait time for the non-priority list is just over two years, according to the Department of Communities.

Ms Sangalli explained that wait times were longer for applicants in Peel and the South West, where there were lower numbers of vacant houses.

"In Mandurah and Bunbury, the vacancy rate in the private sector is zero. A normal vacancy rate is about three per cent," she said.

The state government allocated $2.1 billion to social housing funding in the 2021-22 state budget, which Ms Sangalli said was the first step in solving the issue amid a shortage in construction materials and labour.

"The government's allocating more money than we've seen in many years to social and affordable housing. The problem now is there's no training and they can't get the work done." she said.

Department of Communities spokesman Glenn Mace said the funding is expected to deliver around 3,300 new social housing properties, and will help the department to provide social housing as quickly as possible in a heated construction market.