STRUGGLE STREET: The rental crisis facing our elderly
THE print hanging on his wall may ooze hope and optimism, but the all-too-familar story from Wallace Baker is anything but easy to digest.
While he remains positive and grateful for the little he has, this Warwick man is just one of many struggling with the rising cost of living.
A new report by Tenants Queensland has revealed renters on the Southern Downs are among the most vulnerable in Queensland and it's the elderly battling the most.
Forced to move from his Inglewood home into public housing, 80-year-old Mr Baker is one of many retired citizens having to give up simple joys just to make ends meet.
"You can forget about driving, you can forget about socialising," said Mr Baker, who said goodbye to his beloved car 18 months ago when the cost of fuel and maintenance became too much.
"Giving up driving after 61 years, that was hard," he said.
"And there's no way in the world would I be eating at cafes - the television is my entertainment and that's it."
He also had to give up his private health insurance.
Mr Baker said the aged pension allowed him to pay for rent and bills but little else.
"When you're on your own you just live on the basics and you don't live on the high hog," he said.
The average cost to rent a unit in Warwick is $235 per week, and the maximum amount you can receive on an aged pension is $298.20.
"You just get by and hope nothing big breaks down," Mr Baker said. "If I had to move into a private rental I would be in big trouble."
The print hanging in his home (pictured) serves as a reminder to appreciate the little things and keep his chin up.
A recent Rental Vulnerability report by the Tenants Queensland and City Futures Research Centre ranked the Southern Downs in the top 10 regions for renter vulnerability in Queensland.
Elderly people were identified among those are most at risk.
Tenants Queensland CEO Penny Carr said even though the median rent was low in regional areas compared with cities, the incidence of rental stress was very high.
"We're not just looking at sheer cost, we're looking at a number of other indicators that might relate to people's ability to afford their rent," she said.
The report showed the number of elderly renters in regions like the Southern Downs was on the rise.
"Overall we are seeing a regionalisation of disadvantage," she said.
"Elderly people are moving out of cities in search of cheaper housing but it still may not be affordable for them overall and they may not be able to resolve all their financial issues."
Warwick Senior Citizens Club president Joe Owens said the stress of renting was a deep issue among the town's elderly, but stoicism and a sense of helplessness was stopping them from speaking out about the hardships they faced.
"They don't have any other option so they don't complain, what else can you do?" he said.
"They know they have to pay rent and they just get on with it."
Mr Owens said rent would always come first, but many were cutting back on basic needs.
"I do know of some people who have gone to the absolute extreme on cutting back on tucker to pay for rent and electricity," he said.
"One lady almost malnourished recently."
Another Warwick woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said the pressure of paying rent and bills every week was taking a toll on her mental health.
"It's very stressful and I get depressed a lot," she said.
"Every time I get an electricity bill I have to get an extension and pay it off over six weeks."
She said she was grateful that the landlord let her move in to her apartment without paying the bond because otherwise she wouldn't have been able to afford it.
Ms Carr said the Rental Vulnerability Index was a tool that could allow Tenants Queensland to deliver help and advice to those who needed it most.
"We try to help tenants maintain their housing and they can ring us on 1300744263," she said.
"It will be a way of us checking that we're reaching out to clients in those areas that need it most."