High Rents Boosting Homelessness
22 January 2015 at 10:45 am
Homelessness services in Victoria have seen a 30 per cent increase in demand over the last year, according to new figures.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released data showing that 30,000 private renters and mortgagees had sought help from service providers in 2013/14, a jump of 7000 on the previous year.
The Council to Homeless Persons (CHP), Victoria’s peak homelessness body, said that a lack of affordable housing is at the core of the problem, and that Victoria desperately needed an affordable housing strategy that would both improve the private rental market and boost social housing stock to the national average of 5 per cent.
Social housing currently makes up only 3.4 per cent of Victoria’s housing stock.
“The rising cost of rent is putting the pressure on the average person, but it’s suffocating people on a low income. We need to increase the level of social housing in Victoria so that vulnerable people aren’t forced to pay high rent at the expense of groceries and bills, or worse yet, find themselves on the brink of homelessness,” the CEO of CHP Jenny Smith said.
“Median rent in Melbourne has just tipped to $400 per week, and only 8-in-100 rentals are affordable to someone on a low income.
“We also need to make sure the homelessness sector is equipped to intervene early to help vulnerable renters avoid eviction and homelessness. Once people have fallen into homelessness, the damaging cycle takes hold, and it’s much harder to re-house people.”
The CHP also revealed the story of Rebecca, a single mother renting in Werribee, who fell into rental arrears after she was forced to stop work to care for her ill daughter.
With no family networks to turn to, Rebecca said that she constantly struggled to pay the monthly rent of $1218, which is 65 per cent of her income. She was helped by Yarra Community Housing to catch up on rent.
“I’ve never asked for help my whole life. I used to have my own business, and then things took a turn for the worst and I just got further and further behind. If I hadn’t been able to get help, my daughter and I would have been forced to live in my car,” Rebecca said,
“After paying rent I have nothing over at the end of the week, so it’s impossible for me to put away savings. I’ve looked for cheaper rent, but there’s so much competition, and so few places that I can afford.”
CHP said with 34,600 people on the public housing waiting list in Victoria, there were very few safety nets to catch people like Rebecca.
“I was told I would have to wait nearly 30 years to get into public housing, so I didn’t even bother putting my name down on the list,” Rebecca said.
Victoria has the lowest proportion of social housing in Australia, at 3.4 per cent. The national average is 4.8 per cent.
Homelessness has also become a major Queensland election issue with a joint statement from 17 welfare agencies calling for it to be taken seriously.
“The current State and Federal governments have committed to an ongoing National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which will cease as of September this year,” the statement said.
“A national agreement to responding to homelessness is vital. State borders should not mean a differential response to homelessness. A bipartisan commitment to continuing this agreement is vital, not only economically but to the families and individuals who find themselves without a home.
“These families include children whose schooling, friends and lives are disrupted and who experience the loss of their sense of security. The 2011 census found that nationally 18 per cent of homeless people were children under 12.”