JACK DE GROOT. A home is much more than a roof over your head

This year’s Federal Budget delivered no vision, plan or commitment for addressing the growing housing affordability crisis, yet again failing to recognise how fundamental it is to our nation’s wellbeing to prioritise solving this problem.

Just a year ago I wrote about the importance of having a place to call home, much more than a mere roof over one’s head, it provides a sense of security, a place to which you belong and from where you can build a life.

Housing is a fundamental right for every individual, yet in today’s Australia it has increasingly become a commodity and a privilege.

With wages stagnating, cuts to penalty rates and cost of living increasing, we know that for far too many Australians, all it takes is a sudden crisis like getting sick, domestic violence or losing your job and you will be at real risk of losing your home.

Very little has changed since I suggested that all levels of government needed to collaborate with institutional investors and the not-for-profit sector to provide more affordable housing and accessible services.

Sadly, the Federal Budget delivered no vision, plan or commitment to addressing the growing housing affordability crisis. This is extraordinary, given this is what the Treasurer’s budget papers said last year – ‘If a family or an individual has a roof over their head that they can rely on, then all of life’s other challenges become more manageable.’

We could not agree more.

Rather than a budget concerned with caring for the vulnerable, the Treasurer gave the Australian people his vision for a more inequitable community. The introduction of a flat tax system deprives the economy of tax receipts that pay for crucial social services. A civilised nation collects taxes and redistributes these as services to those most in need. A less civilised one invests in none of this and instead promotes greed and claims that those in need simply don’t work hard enough.

The shortfall in housing supply is a crucial issue for our nation’s wellbeing.  And while the Treasurer proudly announced massive funding for a range of built infrastructure spending across the nation, there was incredulously nothing for housing.

Homelessness in Australia increased by 14% between the 2011 and 2016 censuses and rental prices are skyrocketing. The homelessness and housing crisis is no more acute than here in NSW.

At Vinnies NSW we help deal with this emergency by providing food, beds, educational programs, health clinics and trauma-based counselling. More recently, we called on the NSW Government to hold a Crisis Summit that will tackle the housing issue once and for all.

To do this, the Premier needs her key decision-makers at the table. The Treasurer, the planning minister, and the social services minister can then start fixing the crisis in partnership with industry and the community. The Summit should also welcome developers and their representatives.

To this list of players, we would add the non-government organisations, whose members are not only tireless campaigners, but who are also well regarded and experienced tenancy managers. We are the organisations and individuals who do the heavy lifting providing housing and homelessness services, particularly for those most vulnerable and needy members of our community.

Our governments have the means and they must now solve the issue. The time for argument and debate is over. The time for solutions is now.

Download the PDF of Making Housing Affordable articles posted in May 2017.

Jack de Groot joined St Vincent de Paul Society NSW as Chief Executive Officer in August 2016. He was formerly a senior executive with St Vincent’s Health Australia, one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit providers of health and aged care services.

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