I moved to Sydney at the start of this year. For months I have spent every Sunday I'm not working rushing around the Inner West being interviewed as a flatmate, only to suffer rejection after silent rejection.
I started by scouring all the share house platforms, from Gumtree to Facebook groups. But, seeing dozens of comments appear on a listing within an hour of it going up, makes me wonder: “How the hell do you compete with this level of demand?” Most people I've messaged on Facebook never respond.
Then I signed up to online housing platforms such as flatmatefinder.com.au and flatmates.com, where you create a profile that is eerily similar to an online dating site — including all your lifestyle habits, interests, political views and work situation. My mixture of work, engagement with social justice issues and rental history netted me about one reply to every 10 messages, usually from people looking for “left leaning creative peeps”. Considering the demand for housing, that was not too bad.
In Ultimo, where I work, the demand is at least 8 to 1, with an average price for a room of more than $300 a week. I've seen rooms listed at $400 and above, and they still get a flood of responses. This is comparable in most suburbs close to the city, such as Newtown and Glebe.
There are two major universities in the area. If you study full time, Centrelink pays less than $300 a week. Where do people who cannot pay upwards of $300 a week live? In those rooms I originally thought seemed like a good deal at about $200 a week, but which on closer inspection turned out to be shared rooms. Sometimes there were more than three people in them. They boasted features such as “you have your own key to the house” or “no one sleeping in the lounge room”. I had better conditions at the hostels I stayed at while travelling last year.
Then there is the flatmate interview. I probably got about one interview for every 20 places I messaged. I never knew whether to treat them like a job interview or a tinder date. Some are all about your lifestyle and others are very brisk.
One time I went to a couple's house, where they were like the king and queen of the mansion. They charged about $300 a week for a room and wanted me out of the house on week days as they like their privacy.
Others said: “Here's the house, goodbye.” That's it. You could have saved me the effort of coming to the inspection if you have already found someone else.
But most interviews seemed to go really well. I ticked all the boxes with my work, rental experience and having a life outside the house. It's surprising how many people have heard of Green Left Weekly: “Is that the paper people are always flogging at Central Station every Friday afternoon?”
Most never get back to you — apart from one woman, whose rejection sounded more like someone cancelling a date at the last minute.
Flatmates.com.au's billboard on the bridge near Redfern Station says “Someone finds a room every 5 ½ minutes”. Really? Mine is a common story for young people looking for a room near the city.
Instead of governments increasing public housing and supporting initiatives that would lower rental prices, they are in the pockets of big developers waging war on affordable inner city housing.
Unless you happen to come from a very wealthy family that is prepared to support you, it's going to be a struggle to survive inner city gentrification and find a room to rent in a shared house.