THE fortunes of mining have come at a price for residents of the Upper Hunter Shire, many of whom are struggling to pay skyrocketing rents, are unable to find housing, have been forced out of their community or are now homeless.
It is the bleak and desperate side of the strong real estate market and affluent local economy, something Lee Watts, mayor of the Upper Hunter Shire and manager of the Scone Neighbourhood Resource Centre sees on a daily basis.
“Homelessness is a growing problem in the shire,” she said.
“I know of people who have been living in their cars,” she said.
“It is cold out there and there are children in some of these cars.
“There are many people living in other people’s homes, because the rent has become so expensive here, or there is simply nowhere for them to rent.
“These are people who have jobs, but simply can’t afford to pay the prices here now.
“There has been a two-speed economy here for years, but now it has revved up heaps.”
Compass Housing, a not-for-profit organisation which administers public housing in the area, said it had a waiting list of more than 80 families in need of public housing in the area.
A family at the top of its list is April Carter, her partner and their children, four- month-old Letty-Lea and two-year-old Dekklyn.
The family has been living in a gutted caravan on the front lawns of family and friends for nearly 12 months.
Baby Letty-Lee has bronchiolitis, which is exacerbated by cold air.
After spending five days in Maitland’s paediatric ward with their baby, they are increasingly desperate to get a home.
“My family is in Scone and we had been living in a housing commission home in Muswellbrook, but we had to leave because it was unsafe and now there is nowhere,” Ms Carter said.
“The Muswellbrook place was on Wollombi Road and we had five break-ins in a week, but when a garbage bin was thrown through a window and landed in our little boy’s cot we just had to get out.
“We have been able to get temporary help, but it is short-term and you end up back where you started.
“There needs to be more government housing.”
Even middle income families, earning well above the average wage, are finding it difficult to rent in Scone.
Katrina Clement and her family are worried about finding a home after the house they were renting was sold.
“It is distressing going down this path, what can we do?” Ms Clement said.
“We don’t qualify for emergency housing or benefits because we earn too much; the caravan park won’t take us because we have three children and there are so few houses available for rent that we are worried we just won’t get one in time.
“We may have to separate as a family.
“We are thinking I may have to go to Tamworth to live at my mum’s with the children and take my son out of school, while my husband stays here during the week.
“Some of the places coming on the market are between $500 and $600 and that is expensive for the average family.
“There needs to be more housing available, temporary accommodation for families as they wait for more rentals; it is such a struggle even short-term.”
Pat Gleeson, owner of Pat Gleeson Real Estate in Scone, said the Upper Hunter had a strong real estate market which was good for investment, but difficult on many families.
“There are two main factors that have led to such a strong market: one is the real estate boom and the other is the mining boom,” he said.
“The biggest boom we have seen here was in 2005 where some properties increased by 100 per cent and that increase tends to increase rents over a 10-year period.
“The mining boom has also sustained the strong market and there is not enough accommodation for the demand.
“Rentals are up across the board, across Australia, but our market has not had a correction, it has continued on.
“It is a very strong investment area and you can’t blame investors for ensuring they get good returns.
“More people building and investing in properties can help, by providing more accommodation, but it is the government that is responsible for getting the infrastructure right and making sure there is housing for everyone.
“All of the real estate agents in town are trying to help as many families as we can, it can just take a while sometimes.”
Families in the mining industry, who can afford to pay the high rents, have also found it difficult.
Tara Howard and her family are relived to be moving into a home together, after being apart for more than 12 months.
“My husband has been staying in Aberdeen in a one-bedroom cabin with my son who is going to high school here, while we were in Tasmania with my dad,” Ms
“We had been applying for homes to rent when my dad fell ill and the twins and I went down to live with him and I kept applying for rentals here.
“My dad ended up passing away and I needed to be with my husband and my kids needed their dad.
“Being separated from your family for nine months is really tough.
“We had really good references, no issues with payment and we couldn’t get anything, so how could a single mum with children?
“When I told real estate agents about our situation I felt like they didn’t care, but when I looked online at how many people were impacted I saw why the real estate (agents) were so blasé because they hear these stories everyday.
“I think mining-specific housing needs to be built.
“We need housing for everyone and it is not fair for people who aren’t in mining and can’t afford the prices.
“Mines need to do something for the mining people and the government for everyone else.”
Sam Gorman, manager of Compass Housing in the Upper Hunter, said they were having difficulty finding properties.
“We want to grow, but we need the houses to grow,” she said.
“I would identify that the people suffering the most are the middle to lower income earners.
“They don’t have access to public housing and benefits and many are leaving the area. Unfortunately the mining is peaking everything, not just housing, everything.
“Compass as an organisation is talking with government and not-for-profits to try and solve this issue.
“We are looking at everything, but the problem will continue while we search for the answers.”
Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon said while housing was a state issue the federal government had contributed money for an extra 24 housing commission homes to be built in Scone.
“I am sure those homes have helped, but more needs to be done,” he said.
“The O’Farrell government should be quarantining any increases in royalties to stay in the communities, not sending the money to the cities.”
Member for Upper Hunter George Souris was unavailable for comment.