The budget left the homeless, homeless

May 28, 2023
Building concept.

The housing problem is huge and complex but the plight of the homeless is growing and must be addressed urgently. To solve the problem, what are the practicalities of manufactured housing and their financing?

One of the hallmarks of a fair society is said to be how individuals, communities and governments treat, value and support older people, including those who are most vulnerable. Recent governments have failed this test.

Equally important is how we help the homeless.

The problem

Stories about celebrities and other prominent citizens who have just bought their third or fourth Harbour-side mansion are good front page news. Imagine their wonderful lives! The same media pays little attention to the life of single mother Mary who lives in a car with little nappy wearing Caleb. There was no room at the collective inn of our abysmal housing policy. Nor is there a room for 122,000 others as detailed by Mission Australia.

Mary’s plight is part of an acute and growing housing crisis in our wealthy country. The Government’s response has been to invest $10 billion in a “Housing Australia Future Fund”, which will spend the earnings from the fund to provide housing. If this formula of delayed spending was used to reduce the budget deficit, then shame on the government.

Of the many housing needs, low rental public housing is needed right now and not just when the Housing Australia Future Fund provides some interest. In our rich country, public housing stock has declined in recent years with many dwellings sold off by local governments. Many housed individuals and families are under rental stress and are likely to require public housing.

Housing is a human right and under international law being adequately housed means secure tenure. This provides a sense of safety, emotional stability, improved physical and mental health and a better chance of employment.

So action now provides health for individuals and families and economic gain for the nation. Indeed health in all policies attitude would likely calculate an economic positive from less use of medical and social services; Society also benefits from stable public housing for essential workers in aged care and in other vital services where our nation pays them too little to afford market rate rentals.

As detailed by Sustainable Population Australia, the housing crisis has been inflamed by the government’s increase in immigration to serve the economy. It is pointed out that “the solution to the housing crisis is multi-faceted. It must include a combination of tax reform, regulation, investment in public housing and a sustainable population policy that will contribute to demand management”.

Again the government has failed to recognise the dire harms of a policy of eternal economic growth fanned by immigration. If Australia had a population policy based on science, we might recognise that population expansion is a significant fact in loss of biodiversity and food producing ecological services when our cities expand on to food producing land.

We need to solve this wicked problem of the homeless now and it requires a different way of grasping how homes can be built and financed quickly.

The solution – manufactured homes

To illustrate the magnitude of action we need, let us visualise post war Britain. Two hundred thousand homes had been destroyed from bombing and there were no cars to live in. In 1947 near to our home in Britain a large field nurtured a herd of cows. Within a year the bovine inhabitants were replaced by 400 humans living in over a hundred prefabricated homes.

Between 1945 and 1949, 156,623 prefab bungalows were built for families, couples and singles by a bankrupt, heavily destroyed country.

These were intended as cheap temporary accommodation but they lasted for decades, communities formed, houses were painted with pride and trees were planted. Homeless children suddenly had the stability and social awakening of a local school; parents went to their work, much of it low paid, by efficient bus services. Happiness was a low, stable rent in a secure house.

The factory construction, transport and erection are detailed in “A Brief History of Prefabs”, a Historic England Blog. Good reading for Minister Collins, Minister for Housing and Homelessness.

In Australia some prefabs for the homeless are being provided by the Andrews’ government. As in Britain in 1946, they are built on an efficient assembly line inside a factory avoiding variable weather. Today new prefab housing should be fitted with solar panels.

Immediate finance

So where is the national financial plan for immediate action? This must provide guidance to Premiers who have a predilection to spend our money on Footy stadiums and international golf tournaments to create happiness rather than housing the homeless.

Where did a bankrupt Britain obtain their money? I suspect they had no alternative but to print it. If so, it was a historic use of modern monetary theory (MMT).

Today, government could create money for public spending simply by issuing currency and expanding the deficit for the greatest need of our time –housing. This would fulfil the treasurer’s dalliance to introduce happiness into economic management. Yes, there would be howls of anger from most of the media, business and most colleagues who still think this would transgress economic science– but economics isn’t a science and there are alternatives!

Yes there is a danger of increased inflation but this can be solved by increasing taxes for example from the rich with the beneficial impact of creating a more equal society. Indeed MMT has a particular use in delivering social policy, wealth inequality and access to housing.

The devastating homelessness from the north coast floods and the huge 2019-2020 bushfires which will inevitably recur from progressive climate change, necessitate a national holding of small manufactured homes. These can be dispatched and assembled quickly and would help the family and economic disruptions by the fastest available means.

All these suggestions should be considered by the Treasurer and if he cannot entertain them please may we have the reasons why.

Currently the homeless continue to sleep under the awnings on one side of the street while the rest of us walk by on the other side.

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