Monthly digest on housing affordability and homelessness: April/May 2021

May 28, 2021

The following is the latest instalment of a monthly digest of interesting articles, research reports, policy announcements and other material relevant to housing stress/affordability and homelessness.

Macquarie University sociology researcher, Dr Catherine Hastings, draws attention to the findings of her recent study highlighting the likely adverse consequences in terms of homelessness of the recent withdrawal of government-funded pandemic support and other concessions. These include the end of eviction restrictions, mortgage deferral schemes and JobKeeper, and the return of JobSeeker to levels only slightly higher than pre-pandemic. Hastings’ study focused on fresh data from the Journeys Home project which followed 1,650 Centrelink clients at risk of homelessness between 2011 and 2014.

She found homelessness for poorer families occurs when a crisis, such as domestic violence, job loss or eviction, illness or relationship breakdown, challenges their housing security and they do not have the resources to meet it. Although their resources depend to some extent on their work and unemployment history, education levels, health issues and level of poverty, Hastings believes that the fundamental problem for lower-income families is a lack of adequate financial resources and/or social and affordable housing, rather than the mental health or substance abuse issues which often stereotype homeless people.

Youth housing service raises funding fears with “astronomical” demand

Brisbane Times reporter Matt Dennien notes that Brisbane Youth Service, a major Queensland youth homelessness support service, has experienced more than a 3-fold jump in the number of new requests in the 2021 March quarter, compared to the same period last year. Factors contributing to this steep rise include the overlapping pressures of family violence, mental health issues and the winding back of JobKeeper and JobSeeker. People under 25 make up 42% of Australia’s homeless but only 3% of social housing tenants. 

Buyers embrace Anglicare social housing experiment in Sydney’s west
AFR reporter, Martin Kelly, profiles a pioneering $100m Anglicare project across 3 sites in Western Sydney which mix-build to sell a product with social and affordable accommodation. The business model involves Anglicare holding and renting out a proportion of the development (around three-quarters of the apartments) and selling the rest at prices regarded as relatively affordable in the context of that area. Women aged over 55 will live in the social housing component. Buyers of the “for sale” component appear comfortable with the mixed-use concept.

Social housing waiting list could fill a town larger than Gladstone
Brisbane Times reporter, Felicity Caldwell, observes that there are so many people on the social housing register in Queensland, they could fill a town larger than Gladstone. Thirteen of the State’s leading community organisations have launched a campaign, ‘Town of Nowhere’, calling for the state government to invest $4.1 billion to build 14,700 homes. The number of people on the social housing register has increased 70% in just 3 years, and the proportion deemed “high need” increased over 80% in the last 17 months. Queensland Council of Social Service CEO, Aimee McVeigh, says Queensland is in a housing crisis and rental availability is at an all-time low. She added that domestic violence is the most common reason given for homelessness.

Urban productivity and affordable rental housing supply
Sydney University Professor, Nicole Gurran leads this free webinar, presenting the findings from an AHURI research project published in March 2021, which examined relationships between urban productivity and affordable rental housing, focusing in particular on the location and availability of affordable rental housing relative to employment and labour markets in Australia’s capital cities and satellite cities. Amongst other things, the webinar examines how strategic place-based funding interventions help catalyse new development, including housing, and the potential role of digital innovation in supporting new economic opportunities and related employment in areas such as the outer suburbs of major cities. The webinar includes an industry response from John Brockoff, National Policy Officer at the Planning Institute of Australia and an audience Q&A facilitated by Dr Michael Fotheringham, Managing Director of AHURI.

Rental crisis is putting older women at greatest risk of homelessness
New Daily reporter John Kidman provides a sad reminder that those at greatest risk in Australia’s current homelessness crisis include older women (typically over 55’s). They are our fastest growing cohort of homeless people and are mostly unseen – enduring the “hidden” homelessness of living in a car, in temporary accommodation, in a garage or couch surfing. According to Anglicare’s most recently published Rental Affordability Snapshot, someone on JobSeeker can afford to live in just 3 of 74,000 listings of private rental accommodation, and that is providing they’re willing to share. None of the properties assessed in Anglicare’s report were within reach of anyone on Youth Allowance, and for a person on the Disability Support Pension, only a tiny percentage were. The article cites estimates from South Australian academics, Debbie Faulkner and Laurence Lester, that there are about 240,000 women across Australia aged 55 or older at risk of homelessness, particularly those with limited wealth and savings and who don’t have access to social housing. The risks increase for women who are without full-time work, in a private rental, from a non-English speaking background, Indigenous, living alone or a lone parent, and previous experience of homelessness compounds their risk.

A Housing Strategy for NSW: a good idea, but Housing 2041 falls short
UNSW Professors Hal Pawson and Vivienne Milligan provide their assessment of the NSW government’s new 20-year housing strategy, finding it wanting in terms of actionable solutions. They welcome the recognition the strategy provides of the importance of housing, and the core responsibility NSW has in this area, as well as its wide scope and aspirations for reform. And they also give a nod to the proposed new governance and coordination arrangements, including an expert housing advisory panel and a housing strategy implementation unit.

However, they are critical in a range of other areas. First, they say the strategy documents include no precise analysis of current housing market conditions, nor any quantification of existing unmet housing needs. Second, they note the absence of detailed modelling of demographic forecasts, population structure and regional net migration – projections they regard as essential to the planning of housing supply targets. Third, they observe that the stated strategic goals are extremely high-level in nature and that there is little or nothing in the way of definitive targets and progressive milestones that would be needed to assess outcomes. Finally, they regret the absence of targets for required government expenditure, though acknowledge that this is a budgetary matter (not that the most recent NSW budget offered much in this regard, particularly when compared to Victoria’s much more ambitious “Big Housing Build” spend). Their conclusion is: “The promise of an effective long-term housing strategy for NSW has not been fulfilled…yet.”  See also On the never-ending saga of affordable housing.

Homelessness services welcome pre-budget funding commitment
Probono Australia’s Luke Michael reports the welcome news that the Federal Government has in Budget related announcements signalled its agreement to extend a federal funding deal that will secure more than 500 predominantly female jobs in the homelessness services sector. The announcement was warmly welcomed by many, including ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, and Homelessness Australia Chair, Jenny Smith.

Mission Australia’s response to Federal Budget 2021-22
Mission Australia CEO, James Toomey, offers his view on various aspects of the recent Federal Budget, including in relation to housing. He criticises the Commonwealth’s “absence of leadership on measures that are needed at a national level to end homelessness and increase affordable housing”, saying it will force more people into homelessness, particularly with the additional strains imposed by the current pandemic. Toomey calls for a ‘housing capital aggregator’ to enable large scale private investment in affordable housing, an idea generated by the Constellation Project, where private investment can be pooled into affordable housing and unlocked by Federal Government co-investment.

Social housing, homeless left out in the cold
AHURI Managing Director, Dr Michael Fotheringham, analyses what Australia’s recent Federal Budget does for would-be first home buyers, yet fails to do for those struggling in the private rental market, or for those trying to secure social or affordable housing. On the positive side, he commends, for example, the government’s continuing attempts to help first home buyers (in particular) get over the substantial hurdle of saving enough for a deposit (via the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, now rebranded as the New Home Guarantee). The scheme generally allows eligible recipients to buy a home with a 5% deposit, rather than the usual 20%, by guaranteeing to the lender (via NHFIC) up to 15% of the home’s value. The new Family Home Guarantee has made funding even more accessible for eligible single parents (up to 10,000 of them over the 4 years to 2025), who need to stump up only a 2% cash deposit from their own resources, with the remainder of the deposit being borrowed with a government guarantee.

Fotheringham says, however, that the Budget fails to respond to widespread calls from community sectors, economists and industry for economic stimulus through a national social housing construction program, leaving social and affordable housing in short supply across Australia. He references the over 478,000 low-income and very low-income households in unaffordable rental housing, and the fact that Commonwealth Rental Assistance to low-income renters is insufficient to achieve affordability because the value of CRA has fallen behind rent. And he believes CRA could be better targeted without increasing cost to the commonwealth.

Albanese’s $10b pledge pushes housing needs back into the limelight
Writing in The Conversation, UNSW Professor, Hal Pawson, analyses Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s budget-reply speech, specifically the part addressed to Australia’s huge unmet need for social and affordable housing. Labor has proposed a $10 billion program to build 30,000 social and affordable homes over 5 years or an average of 6,000 units per year. As Pawson says, this marks a clear point of difference to the Coalition’s position on this type of supported housing, but it is certainly not a game-changer. Jason Clare, Federal Labor’s housing spokesperson, describes Albanese’s initiative as a “significant start” in tackling Australia’s housing crisis. It should be seen in the context of Australia’s current national stock of social and affordable housing, which numbers just over 400,000 homes and has had annual additions in recent years of only 2,000 to 3,000 units per annum.

Previous UNSW research has shown that a net increase of 15,000 units a year is needed just to keep pace with “normal” population growth. As a share of all housing, social rental housing has declined from around 6% to only 4% since the 1990s, and in proportion to population has halved in that time. Pawson ends by calling for a far wider program of action, one which “must also tackle our grossly unbalanced housing tax settings, boost renters’ rights and diversify the available choice of housing”. Above all, he calls for the Commonwealth to assemble a national housing strategy, that he says is long overdue. See also ‘Frontline workers’ among those to get priority in Albanese’s housing program, and Albanese promises $10 billion fund to cut housing costs for workers.

Developers to be levied for affordable housing across City of Sydney
SMH reporter Angus Thompson describes a NSW Government initiative to allow the City of Sydney to extend its affordable housing scheme requiring new developments to make financial or floor-space contributions towards new rental housing throughout the municipality. NSW Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, said the change would help the City of Sydney create an additional 10,000 properties by 2036.  Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, welcomed the initiative.

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