Can Catholics afford to live near their parishes?

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

In November 2023, Maria Dela Cruz, her husband and three children made the difficult decision to move more than 30km away from their beloved St Joachim’s Parish in Lidcombe, to Marsden Park. 

Though Maria and her family rented in Auburn for more than 14 years—around the corner from St Joachim’s—their only chance of owning their own home would be at the cost of relocating parishes. 

The other option? Spend over an hour getting to church. 

Now, multiple times a week, they hop in a car or take the train to make the arduous trek back to St Joachim’s. 

“My children, who asked us to not move parishes, they’re very involved in the life of the church,” Maria said. 

“And my husband and I agreed they’d have to start all over again if we go somewhere different.” 

Joanne O’Keefe and her family are also parishioners of St Joachim’s who have been priced out of the neighbourhood, despite a double income. They’ve instead lived in Rooty Hill for the last 21 years. 

Joanne originally relocated to Lidcombe as a child from Yass and has attended the parish since 1981, when her dad began taking the family.  

Joanne and her family. Photo: Supplied.

“For me and my girls now, that connection and comfort in the parish has always kept us going back there. For us it’s an extended family in some ways,” she said. 

The pair are hardly alone in finding themselves unable to buy in once-affordable suburbs like Lidcombe, despite having deep roots in the local community. 

According to property website Domain, a three-bedroom, one-bathroom weatherboard house on Harry Avenue—a 10-minute walk from St Joachim’s—sold for over $1.5m in March this year. When it was last on the market in 1987, it sold for $85k.  

Less than 600m away, a larger four-bedroom, two-bathroom, family home on Maud Street late last year set another homebuyer back more than $2.3m. It previously sold for $250k in 1998. 

Hardly the luxury mansions of Vaucluse or Mosman, these small suburban properties—sometimes run down and requiring renovations—are exploding in price but aren’t the most practical for growing families. 

Bankstown-based real estate agent Paul Chidiac told The Catholic Weekly that it was very hard to find a family home in the heart of Western Sydney, where most of Sydney’s growing Catholic families and booming parishes are located, for under $1.2m.  

“Depending on where people as a family go to church is generally where they want to stay around, but more and more we’re seeing that option isn’t feasible,” Paul said. 

“Just like a listing is made attractive when closer to shops or in the vicinity of good schools, if a property is close to a place of worship, it’s definitely something people look out for. 

Maria and her family. Photo: Supplied.

“The number of buyers hasn’t dropped off—the amount of stock on the market has. There’s barely anything, especially in those pockets in and around parishes. 

“The market around churches have always been a hotter buck than anywhere else. While it’s already tough to find homes in Sydney, properties near churches will always have even more of a demand.” 

Investment property data website heatmaps puts the median house price in Lidcombe last year at $1.4m, compared to just over a million in 2016. 

Wealthier areas nearby, like Strathfield, have risen astronomically, now hovering closer to a $3.6m median after appreciating more than a million in three years.  

Buying further out and maintaining a presence in the parish is a solution that comes with its own costs, however. 

“Petrol is its own problem when going back and forth so much and the interest rate too has blown out of proportion,” Maria said.  

“We’re very early into our mortgage and already sometimes we have to delay payments just to keep afloat.” 

Despite this, she and her kids remain active in the parish, even if it means some late nights getting home. 

“At the end of the day, I put up my hand because I want my children to see their parents doing these good things and to encourage them to do the same, which they are. It’s tough to leave that behind. 

“In saying that, holidays aren’t on the cards for a while.” 

While Joanne and her husband might have worked out a way to keep coming back, it might not be the solution for future generations of Catholics—relocating parishes might be the only choice.  

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Maria and her family. Photo: Supplied.

“At that time, we didn’t have four children either,” Joanne said.  

“But with the soaring price of education now too, plus cost of living and housing dilemmas, I imagine we might not even have been able to afford our current home if we bought it in this market in 2024.” 

“We’ve had these discussions with my eldest who’s 16 and wants to study at university. She’s concluded she won’t be moving out any time soon. 

“She doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to afford a home, but my husband and I continue encouraging the girls to do their best, because life’s so competitive and expensive.  

“We’re trying to prepare them for what they’re going to have to endure.” 

Real-estate agent Paul says there’s no easy answer. 

“We don’t know what the market’s going to hold in the future. All we know is right now, and how it’s been for these last years,” he said. 

“You have to live within your means. It’s unfortunate that prices around places of worship have skyrocketed, but you’ve got to jump into the market and make your way towards your goal if you can’t afford to buy where you’d like straight away. 

“If that means buying somewhere far out from your parish, relocating a while, building some equity and then starting to make your way closer, then that’s what you’ve got to do.” 

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