An Albury mother is fearful of the possibility her famiy could become homeless, with skyrocketing prices and high demand for rental properties on the Border locking them out of the market.
Single mum of five Shantelle Melbourne said she had been looking for somewhere to rent since late last year, after receiving notice to vacate her current home due to a sale of the property.
Ms Melbourne said the lack of affordable properties and having five dependents under the age of 13 was making it "impossible" to find affordable housing.
"I've even suggested to my older children that they stay with my mother just to break up the amount of children I have when going into a property," she said.
Ms Melbourne said she'd contacted emergency accommodation providers, but she was a low priority on the three-year-plus wait list.
"It's just that feeling of hopelessness and no one really cares," she said.
"Everyone's like 'just keep trying', but how much can you keep trying?
"I've applied for 45 different houses - 30 of them, it doesn't even get to the inspection stage before they say it's no longer available.
"The ones I do go to inspect, there's about 30 people coming in and out, and that's just in one session.
"There's nothing in the four-bedroom range for less than $420 a week and that means I'll have to go up nearly a hundred dollars a fortnight to secure a bigger property."
She said she would take whatever she could find, even if it was more expensive, but having so many young dependents was unattractive to landlords.
"I'm not fussy," she said. "Anything really that can cater to five children and is safe. But I am trying to save, obviously, because the more money I spend on rent means the less I'll have to spend on the kids and their needs."
The disability support worker said she would happily have her children in shared bedrooms and a smaller house if she were able to lease one.
She has considered the possibility of splitting up her family and sending her two older children to live in their Nan's one-bedroom house, but the idea was scaring her children.
"I don't even know if separating the kids is going to be any benefit," she said.
"But on paper, going into a three-bedroom home with one adult and three kids would probably seem a lot more realistic than five children and one adult in a three-bedroom house."
"I don't want to, but I don't know what other options I really have."
She said her current property managers were "wonderful", but it wasn't enough.
"(They) have just been amazing in trying to help me, but they haven't got any properties on file," she said.
The housing and rental market in Albury-Wodonga has been reaching new heights over the last 12 months, a trend that is being seen in many other regional housing markets across the country.
IN OTHER NEWS
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, buyers and renters from Australia's capital cities had been flooding the regional market.
Ms Melbourne said she had heard of people coming in and offering high rent in advance.
"It's becoming a bit of a bidding war," she said. "Now we're auctioning rentals.
"We didn't have this sort of competition prior to COVID-19."
The shortage in the rental market coincides with an unprecedented property boom on the Border, that has seen residential house prices push up.
Agents who spoke to The Border Mail said they had seen the market rise before and then eventually suffer a downturn, but the expectation this time was that present prices may well be "the new normal".
Meanwhile, Ms Melbourne must continue to compete with those shopping the rental market, and it's a search she says is taking a toll on her mental health.
"I'm dealing with a lot of anxiety and a little bit of depression," she said.
Making matters worse, she was the target of a scammer on a Facebook local rentals page.
After posting on the page to see if anyone knew of a house that was available, she received a message saying there was a property in Thurgoona up for rent while the owner was "out of state having surgery".
When she got in touch, she was asked to send a deposit, and she would be sent the keys.
Though she realised quickly it was obviously a scam, she said it was yet one more disappointment.
The Albury resident of seven years said she had considered relocating to another town.
But at this point she has decided against it because her children attend school locally, and a move away would also see her lose her support network.
Until she finds a house to live in, Ms Melbourne says she is at the point where she has to consider living in her car with her five children.
"But with toddlers it's not going to be particularly easy," she said.
"They're stressful enough at the best of times."
Ms Melbourne, who is studying a diploma of counselling, said there needed to be more support for others who find themselves in the same situation, and it needed to be available before people found themselves on the verge of homelessness and emotional collapse.
"There should be a bit more of a streamline system in catering to people who are struggling," she said.
"Because I have the capacity to do private rental and I'm not in immediate danger, they've put me on a list, but I've still got nowhere to go.
"All I can do is push forward with what my property manager says - that I'm good, clean, reliable, up to date with rent, very open and communicative.
"(I'm) just hoping someone can see that as a positive and give us a chance."