Affordable Housing: A National Issue That Requires a National Response

As our cover story this month highlights, the importance of affordable housing and the impact it has on people’s wellbeing, is of major significance. Senior Policy Officer at Catholic Social Services Australia, Liz de Chastel, examines the affordable housing crisis in Australia in light of the Federal Budget.

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, rural and regional communities.

Roughly 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 Catholic Social Services Australia and Catholic Health Australia, promotes and facilitates the development of social housing on church-owned land.

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. 1

Having a safe, permanent and affordable home provides the stability necessary for an individual or family to meaningfully participate in their community. This 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 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.2 In the 2011 Census there were 105,237 people classified as being homeless, an increase of 15,000 since 2006.

CSSA has 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.

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 programs 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 housing3.

CSSA believes housing is a national issue just like education and health. The Australian Government must take a leadership role in housing. 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.

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 productivity4.

References:

1. Catholic Social Teaching (UK) accessed 11th May 2015

2. Senate of Australia – Housing Affordability Inquiry 2008

3. National Rental Affordability Scheme Australia – Social Impact Investment accessed on 6th November 2014

4. AHURI Evidence Review 3 Affordable housing lifts economic growth for all accessed 11th May 2015

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Liz de Chastel

Liz de Chastel is Senior Policy Officer for Catholic Social Services Australia.

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