Affordable Housing: A national issue that requires a national response

A place to call home provides stability for an individual and family.JPG

The provision of safe and affordable housing is a basic human right. Catholic Social Teaching asserts that every person possesses inherent dignity, is of great value, and worthy of respect and protection. To treat people with dignity means affording them their basic human rights which include the right to the basic needs of life – such as food and shelter.

Having a safe, permanent and affordable home provides the stability necessary for an individual or family to meaningfully participate in their community.

For this reason Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) was keen to review this year’s Federal Budget to see where the Coalition Government was planning to allocate resources to housing services.

CSSA is the Catholic Church’s peak national body for social services representing 59 member agencies that deliver a full range of social services to poor and vulnerable individuals and families in metropolitan and rural and regional communities.

Approximately 60 per cent of our member agencies provide housing services including long term rental, supported accommodation, crisis and short term accommodation, housing and homelessness support services, and housing for the elderly.

In addition the Australian Catholic Housing Alliance, a group of Catholic social service and housing service agencies jointly auspiced by CSSA and Catholic Health Australia, promotes and facilitates the development of social housing on church owned land.

Affordable private rental housing is needed as well as social housing

Housing is often the first need that has to be addressed when people access our member agencies’ services.  Without a place to call home, other issues such as health, employment or education cannot be addressed.

Unfortunately, evidence shows that many low income and disadvantaged Australians are suffering from housing stress.  Two thirds of Australia’s poorest households (those in the lowest 40 per cent of the income distribution) are spending over a third of their income on housing. In the 2011 Census there were 105,237 people classified as being homeless, an increase of 15,000 since 2006.

There is currently an undersupply of social housing in Australia and a growing demand from vulnerable people including the elderly and young people who may be affected by recent changes to income support payments.  In 2011 it was estimated there was a shortfall of 186,000 dwellings across Australia to meet demand.  The private rental market in certain areas is also currently unaffordable for people on low incomes such as those receiving government payments and the minimum wage. In addition the private rental market does not provide enough housing stock for lower income families and often there are barriers to entry such as expensive bonds and referee checks.

As well as a social dimension to the housing crisis there is also an economic cost.  Lack of social and economic engagement by homeless people is a cost to national and local economies. The cost savings obtained by reducing services is offset by the losses resulting in non-engagement and non-productivity of the homeless. 

Research has consistently shown that the longer an individual is homeless, the more likely they are to suffer mental illnesses (homelessness is often a significant factor in the development of mental illness), legal problems, physical ill health and family breakdown. The younger a person is when they become homeless, the more likely it is that they will return to homelessness later in life with all of its associated problems. All of these issues represent significant cost burdens on Australia’s health, legal and disability systems.  Cuts to housing and homelessness services cannot therefore be regarded as savings given they most often result in greater costs arising in other areas of federal expenditure.

Since shelter is a basic human right, affordable housing and homelessness services must be equally available to all Australians, regardless of where they live.  Solving homelessness requires leadership at a national level.  This view is supported by a majority of Australians who were surveyed about homelessness – 85 per cent believed that it was the Government’s responsibility to ‘solve homelessness’.

CSSA has also called for better coordination of housing services between the Australian and the state and territory governments.  A top priority for both levels of government is to increase the amount of expenditure directed to housing affordability and homelessness services to address the current shortfall in all forms such as crisis accommodation, homelessness, rental housing and housing for those with a disability.

In 2011 there was a shortfall of 186,000 dwellings to meet demand

Regrettably the 2015-16 Federal Budget provided no long term certainty for housing services.  This follows cuts that were made in the 2014-15 Budget to grants programmes as well as specific housing services including: homelessness programs, monitoring of housing demand and supply, funding for peak housing bodies, and the national rental affordable scheme. 

To compound matters further the state and territory governments have not received any additional funding from the Australian Government to cover the gaps left by the withdrawal of funding for public housing last year.

Unfortunately it’s not just housing services that are feeling the effects of further budget cuts. The Australian Council of Social Services analysis of the 2015-16 Federal Budget which modelled the impact of measures across the last two Budgets showed that the combined savings measures in the 2014 Budget and the new cuts in the 2015 Budget would strip an estimated $15 billion over four years from basic services and supports, with total projected cuts of $80 billion from health and schools funding to the States over the next decade.

CSSA believes housing is a national issue just like education and health.  The housing crisis impacts on the productivity of the national economy and many housing levers, such as taxation, migration and income payments, are overseen by the Australian Government.  In addition there are economies of scale for delivery of social housing across state/territory borders. For these reasons the Australian Government, should take the lead role in making housing a national priority.

The good news is that if the Australian Government increases the provision of affordable housing and homelessness services, not only will individuals and families benefit, but the Australian economy will reap the benefits of increased productivity.

Liz de Chastel, is the Senior Policy Officer for Catholic Social Services Australia.  Liz has extensive experience in social and urban policy development.  She has qualifications in urban and regional planning and management and is a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia.

Contact: liz.dechastel@cssa.org.au or Telephone 02 6285 2399

Source :
Liz de Chastel, Senior Policy Officer, Catholic Social Services Australia

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