High rents in Canberra mean many people on low incomes cannot afford to see a dentist or a doctor and struggle with heating bills, according to a report released on Thursday.
It says options in the private rental market are "barely existent" for young people who are unemployed.
However the plight of people not having enough money for groceries is masked by Canberra's image of affluence, it says.
People in the ACT face the highest cost of living of all Australian capital cities, primarily due to rental prices.
The 2011 Census found the ACT had the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia. Single, older women in Canberra are most at risk of becoming homeless.
As part of Anti-Poverty Week, the Safe + Well Green Paper from the community and private sector proposes ways to help those affected by the housing affordability crisis in the ACT.
"This paper reveals the extent of the crisis, analyses the costs of not addressing the issue and provides constructive and practical ways to resolve this seemingly never-ending issue," it says.
Dr Angie Bletsas from ACTCOSS says in the relatively small and affluent ACT, it is often difficult to persuade people that deprivation and housing crisis are real problems.
"In this paper we show that, just like the old joke about the statistician who drowned in the lake that averaged only two inches of water, if policymakers do not look beyond averages they risk losing sight of the extent and degree of housing crisis in the ACT," she says.
Low-income households in the ACT, on average, spend more than double the proportion of their weekly household income on housing costs, than households with the highest incomes.
Jeremy Halcrow, co-chairman of the ACT Anti-Poverty Week committee, said one of the greatest drivers of inequality in Canberra was housing affordability.
"We recognise that it is a complex issue and want to open up a dialogue with the ACT government in order to find sustainable solutions," he said.
Anglicare research and advocacy officer Claire Lloyd Jones says housing affordability has long been "an intractable problem" for low-income households in the ACT.
"The ACT's high median income allows rents to remain elevated, excluding lower income households from the market," she says.
"Australia-wide, government benefits have not kept up with the cost of living and those on fixed incomes such as older people who do not own their own home and people living with disabilities face increasing difficulty in finding affordable accommodation which meets their needs.
"For those on the lowest income support payments, such as Youth Allowance and Newstart Allowance, options in the private rental market barely exist."
Under the heading, "Not living the dream", ACT Shelter executive officer Travis Gilbert says a survey at the end of last year found 19,600 households in the ACT were experiencing stress about housing.
It is a "fact of life" for low-income families to miss dental and medical appointments and not pay bills on time.
"In addition to missing out on things many of us might take for granted, we heard people are increasingly falling prey to high interest short-term lenders," he says.
"This is driving people further into debt and putting people further at risk of bankruptcy and homelessness."
Among the recommendations in the paper are:
* Increase accessible and affordable rental housing in the ACT
* Restrict negative gearing on future investment properties, to provide more affordable housing options for young people
* Explore how to fill the gap left by the demise of the National Rental Affordability Scheme
* Increase the supply of ACT government housing for those on the waiting list