Monthly digest on housing affordability and homelessness – July/Aug 2019

Aug 29, 2019

This is a monthly digest of interesting articles, research reports, policy announcements and other material relevant to housing stress/affordability and homelessness – with hypertext links to the relevant source.

Poor housing leaves its mark on our mental health for years to come   [The Conversation, 29 July] There is a clear correlation between poor mental health and housing disadvantage, the latter which includes overcrowding, falling behind in mortgage or rental payments, insecure housing tenure, eviction and poor physical housing conditions.   The authors of this article say that one in every nine Australian households has unaffordable housing, and up to 1.1m Australians have housing that is in very poor condition, or even derelict.  “Housing is central to our lives. When it is affordable, secure and in good condition, it provides a foundation for us to participate fully in and contribute to society”, say the authors.   One might add… And when it is not, what then?

Older Australians and the housing aspirations gap   [AHURI Report, 7 August]  The housing aspirations “gap” (actual versus desired) for older Australians (aged 55 and over) is measured in this Report across various dwelling characteristics, including location (city/regional/suburb type), dwelling type, tenure (ownership/private rental/social rental) and of course size.  The aspirations of this age cohort are driven by a desire for long-term, stable housing, with safety and security ranking highly.  Although the aspirations gap for older Australians is generally not large, it is not surprisingly larger for renters than home-owners.  The Report includes some policy suggestions for reducing the aspirations gap.

Young Australians and the housing aspirations gap  [AHURI Report, 15 August]  It is relevant to look at both the short and longer term in assessing the housing aspirations gap for “emerging” (18-24 years) and “early” adults (25-34 years). According to this Report, young Australians in each such age cohort are living longer with their parents (for emerging adults, an increase from 58% to 66% in the 12 years to 2015-16), and have a general preference (ranging from 60% to 70%) for owner-occupation over rental – lending support to the view that the Great Australian Dream is alive and kicking, despite the affordability challenges.  Well over half of those in each age cohort prefer houses over apartments.  It is no surprise that the aspirations gap is greatest for those in the private rental sector.  Having somewhere safe and secure to call home is for both groups the top priority.

Understanding counter cyclical investment in social housing   [Updated AHURI Brief, 26 July]  It may sound obvious, but sometimes things just aren’t until they are stated.  For governments in particular, economic slowdowns (like the one looming right now) present a good value-for-money, counter cyclical opportunity to invest in affordable housing supply.  Such slowdowns mean reduced competition (and therefore costs) for both building industry professionals and for developable land.  Government investment stepping in at such times has the added benefit of helping to stimulate economic activity in the general community.   A good case in point:  The WA Housing Authority was “arguably the major player in the Perth residential development industry” during the GFC.

Can modular homes solve the UK’s housing crisis?   [The Guardian, 6 August]   Modular housing could make a meaningful contribution in addressing the UK’s housing crisis.  This type of housing is typically prefabricated in a factory and then assembled on site, in sections.  Two new high-rise residential towers (38 and 44 storeys high), and containing 546 modular housing apartments, are being built in the London borough of Croydon. Confidence is growing in the UK in this style of construction, partly on the back of projects such as these, and partly due to its proven popularity in countries such as Japan, Germany and Sweden. Factory construction of homes has a number of advantages over traditional construction, including increased speed and efficiency of construction.  That said, achieving adequate scale of operation, and continuity of demand, remain obstacles.

Older Australian women are finding themselves homeless  [, 7 August]  Women over the age of 55 account for one of Australia’s fastest growing age/gender cohorts experiencing homelessness.  This article includes a moving case study about a Melbourne based woman (Anne) in her mid 60s who is still in transitional housing.  The situation of women like Anne is often driven by a lack of superannuation (as a result of years of unpaid work keeping home and raising children), as well as the unaffordability of the private rental market.  Relationship breakdowns and domestic violence sadly also often play a role.  An important part of the answer is more investment in social housing stock, which has in recent years failed woefully to keep up with the need.

Dormant government land in Victoria used to house homeless people   [ABC Radio National, 5 August]   Bevan Warner, CEO of Melbourne based Community Housing Provider, Launch Housing, describes an innovative move by Launch Housing, with help from both a private philanthropist and from the Victorian government, to create 57 new factory-built and transportable “tiny” (20 sqm) social housing units on unused government land previously set aside for road widening. The first 6 of these permanent, self-contained and cheap to run homes are now built and have been well received by their new (previously homeless) occupants.  The land remains owned by the Victorian government but is leased to Launch Housing on a “peppercorn” (ie. nominal) ground rent, making it effectively “free” to Launch.  Warner claims to have identified 195 hectares of currently unused government land in Greater Melbourne alone which could support housing such as this.   See also this article about the Launch Housing project, on the website.

Youth Foyer model, an education first approach to tackling homelessness   [Pearls and Irritations, 8 August]   Conny Lenneberg, Executive Director of Brotherhood of St Laurence, provides an upbeat assessment of the Education First Youth Foyer model developed by BSL in partnership with Launch Housing.  Foyers such as these are not only helping young people build capacity to lead more positive independent lives, but they have also been found to make economic sense.

How two countries are tackling homelessness, and succeeding   [YAHOO Finance, 9 August]   Finland is the only country out of the 28 in the EU where homelessness is falling.  What’s the secret?   It’s as simple as giving priority to the so-called “housing first” principle, an idea based on the principle that giving a homeless person a permanent home makes it easier to address the various other issues that often afflict the homeless and prevent them from escaping the cycle of homelessness.  These issues include substance abuse and mental health problems.  Since launching their own version of “housing first” in 2008, Finland has seen the number of long-term homeless people fall by more than 35%, and the number of rough sleepers in Helskinki nearly reach zero.  In 2015, Wales (in the UK) implemented a homeless prevention law, mandating Welsh local government to implement certain homelessness prevention (duty to assist) measures, and adopting what in essence is also a “housing first” approach.   See also this article from Pro Bono Australia.

HESTA backs Nightingale Village sustainable housing project in Melbourne  [The Fifth Estate, 6 August]  Industry super fund, HESTA, is putting up $20m of financing to help back the latest (and fourth) iteration – in Melbourne’s Brunswick – of the Breathe Architecture inspired “Nightingale” housing model. Aside from being environmentally, socially and financially sustainable, Nightingale buildings cap re-sale profits at 15% so as to keep apartment prices down.  Key workers (mainly in the health and community care sectors) will account for 20% of the occupants of this project and a further 20% will comprise affordable housing rentals, via Community Housing Providers.   Social Ventures Australia (SVA) is also providing financing for the project.

Trends in housing occupancy and costs of housing in Australia  [Pearls and Irritations, 16 August]   A researcher from the Australian Parliamentary Library has provided a useful summary of trends in housing occupancy and related costs over the 20 years to 2017-18, based on ABS data released as part of the 2017-18 Survey of Income and Housing.  Amongst other things, it shows a marked reduction (from 40% down to 30%) over that period in the proportion of home owners who are mortgage free, and a significant increase in the proportion of households who rent, particularly amongst those who rent from private landlords. Over the same period, housing costs (adjusted for inflation) have increased by 40% for those with a mortgage (despite record low interest rates), and by over 50% for renters.

Homelessness Week 2019  [4 to 10 August]  This annual week in the middle of the cold winter months, coordinated by Homelessness Australia, is designed to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action needed to achieve enduring solutions.  Homelessness Week came about from various churches and missions running winter vigils to remember people who had died on the streets.   More than 116,000 people are homeless across Australia, including some 8,000 rough sleepers, and around 195,000 people remain on social housing waiting lists.  And all this in what we call a Lucky Country.

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