Wagga residents have been squeezed out of the city by a tight rental market but there is little respite to be found in surrounding towns.
The city continues to experience a dearth of rental properties, but towns in the Riverina are reporting zero rentals on their markets at all.
For tenants Eric Woodham and Cassia Ware, who in April detailed their extensive and fruitless search for a rental to The Daily Advertiser, the only option was to leave town.
The couple had applied for 20 properties in the space of two months and after failing to secure anything in Wagga, had to relocate to a relative's farm outside Tumbarumba.
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"I can't get over it to be honest, just the surprise of it," Mr Woodham said from the caravan he now shares with Ms Ware and her two children on the property. "The amount of places we applied for... it's a very desperate situation there."
Mr Woodham suffers from epilepsy which inhibits his ability to find work and to drive. Being forced out of regional centers means accessing medical care and work becomes difficult.
"I've had to actually leave my job at Coles, I didn't have much of a choice in that," he said. "You can't keep working when you're a couple of hours away with no license."
"It is very tricky for me to get a job in the first place. I can't work around certain things because of my epilepsy and employers need to know signs and symptoms and that makes people quite nervous."
This week he cycled 12km either way to hand out resumes in town, but is unsure how he will make the daily commute if he does secure something.
"I moved to Wagga so I'd have more facilities and opportunities like TAFE, the job at Coles, and then I'm forced to move," Mr Woodham said, describing the overall situation as "frustrating".
He remained hopeful they will eventually secure something cheaper outside of Wagga, however low vacancy rates are touching every corner of the region and local agents say securing a home outside of Wagga won't be any easier.
SQM Research reported a 0.6 per cent vacancy rate in April 2021 for the Riverina, while the Real Estate Institute NSW is reporting 0.9 per cent for the same period.
Real Estate Institute CEO Tim McKibbin described the statistics as indicative of a near-empty market.
"At 0.9 per cent you may as well say there are no properties," Mr McKibbin said.
"There's very little stock, normally in the Riverina it's around three or four per cent."
Tumut Valley Real Estate's Mark Magann said the rental situation is unlike anything he's seen it in almost 25 years, warning availability in Wagga is likely better than in towns like Tumut.
"I can tell you that the rental market is ballistic like it is everywhere," Mr Magann said. "It's in very short supply and there's a lot of demand."
"I've never seen the market as crazy as it is at the moment."
Junee property manager Hayley Hackett, said the town is in the same boat as Wagga when it comes to availability.
"Right now I have one rental availability," Ms Hackett said. "At normal times there could be anywhere between two or three pages of rentals but in the past year the maximum at one time was eight."
"Since December, I've only had as much as two on the rental list and nothing more."
At 0.9 per cent you may as well say there are no properties
Agents in both Coolamon and Henty reported that they had nothing available for rent at all.
Coolamon Ray White manager Errol Sutherland described the current market as "helter skelter".
"We have got not one house to rent in Coolamon or Galmain," Mr Sutherland said. "I've never seen the market so devoid of stock, it's incredible."
Henty AgVet's Adrian O'Brien said he had "zero vacancies", explaining demand is in part driven by buyers and renters squeezed out by tight markets in Wagga and Albury where vacancy is even lower at 0.4 per cent.
Mr Woodham's plight comes after Wagga mum Amanda Cain revealed she became homeless with her two children after failing to secure a house to rent in the city earlier this year.
Mr McKibbon warned that though the market is lucrative for agents and sellers, stories like Mr Woodham's and Ms Cain's are an unavoidable consequence, and a human cost that needs to be considered.
"What it demonstrates is how interwoven property is with our lives," he said. "When we boil it all the way down there's three things we need that are non- negotiable: Food, water, and shelter."
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