Social Housing Overlooked Amid Rising Unemployment


Governments need to release land faster to solve the housing affordability conundrum and support at-risk individuals and families, research body Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute says.

According to the group’s latest research paper, insufficient affordable housing supply, poverty and lack of access to other services are currently the main drivers for homelessness across the country.

Census and service use data shows approximately 120,000 people experience homelessness nationally each year, with around 8,200 rough sleepers—the most extreme form of homelessness.

During the last decade, homelessness has increased by 14 per cent across the country, with rough sleepers growing by 20 per cent.

AHURI spokesperson Kylie Valentine said homelessness was a by-product of a multitude of factors, including employment and housing markets, personal experiences, and access to available services.

“The homelessness service system is faced with significant challenges that are driven in part by the complexity of shared responsibilities between federal and state and territory governments,” Valentine said, noting that the response would have to come from the top down to assist those at risk.

Related: Social Housing Construction May Lead Covid-19 Recovery

▲ A homeless man sleeps on a park bench in Sydney in March. Image: Getty Images.
▲ A homeless man sleeps on a park bench in Sydney in March. Image: Getty Images.

Australia’s social housing shortfall has been well documented, with research from UNSW City Futures Research Centre suggesting more than one million social and affordable houses are needed during the next 20 years to keep pace.

The federal government’s recent $688 million Home Builder package has also been put under the spotlight for missing the mark and ignoring accommodation provisions for those with the lowest incomes and the highest needs—the most undersupplied sector of Australian housing.

Earlier this month, Grattan Institute program director Brendan Coates pointed to the then-Labor government’s GFC-era Social Housing Initiative, under which 19,500 social housing units were built and another 80,000 refurbished over the course of two years, at a cost of $5.2 billion.

The chief executive of national peak body, the Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA), Wendy Hayhurst, said the existing National Rental Affordability Scheme represents a type of “social infrastructure” program that was “poorly-designed” and outdated.

Hayhurst said that under a new four-year, $7.7 billion social house building program devised by CHIA—the Social Housing Acceleration and Renovation Program (SHARP)—job creation and reduced homelessness could support one another through higher investment in social housing outcomes.

“SHARP will not just deliver great quality homes to those in need but also secure great jobs for thousands of Australians,” Hayhurst said.

According to modelling by SGS Economics and Planning, 30,000 homes could be built over the next four years and create around 18,000 full-time-equivalent jobs each year.

Similarly in April, the CFMEU and Master Builders Australia also suggested a $10 billion social and affordable construction fund to bolster employment and deliver a significant social and economic dividend.

Housing All Australians, a not-for-profit set up by a former Frasers Property general manager Robert Pradolin to improve access to affordable housing for vulnerable Australians, is also leading the call for corporate interest and investment in the sector.

Pradolin recently commissioned the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute to assess the long-term social and economic costs of the failure to provide sufficient social and affordable housing.

The study is funded by a range of corporations including Stockland, ISPT, AV Jennings, Plenary, Assemble, Metricon and Frasers.

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