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There’s no place like home: The housing Crisis in Victoria and Homelessness

Everyone has the fundamental right to access secure and affordable housing. The latest census1 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed us that the number of people experiencing homelessness jumped by 4.6% between 2011 and 2016 nationally. In Victoria, people experiencing homelessness has continued to rise since 2001. A plethora of issues are offered as the cause of people experiencing homelessness. Of these, the declining availability of public housing is hardly mentioned. The reality is Victoria is in the middle of a housing crisis, which has attributed to the rise of people experiencing homelessness. The increase of people being locked out of the rental and private market, was found by the Victorian Council of Social Services2 to be linked to wage stagnation and increased living costs, resulting in a higher demand for public and affordable housing. This demand has caused the public housing waiting list in Victoria to reach a staggering 82,0003 people. To address this crisis, the Victorian government needs to invest in public housing. Instead, they are selling our public land and public housing to private developers.

The Public housing renewal program

The Victorian government is selling public land under the Public Housing Renewal Program. The Department of Human Services4 is planning to redevelop old public housing estates into social housing. There are two big issues in this program.

First, is the utilisation of the term social housing, an umbrella term that places both community and public housing in the same category. Housing Victoria5 describes Public Housing as long-term accommodation provided by the government for disadvantaged Victorians. It is a service vital for the survival of vulnerable groups in our society, likethose experiencing homelessness. Rent is only 25% of one’s total income, and you areguaranteed welfare payments. Community housing passes on the responsibility of providing housing from the Government to the not-for-profit sector. Housing Victoria6 reveals that under Community housing, rent makes up between 25 and 30% of one’stotal income, without guaranteed support of rental assistance. Community housing and Public housing clearly cannot be coupled as one of the same. Combining both forms of housing under the umbrella of social housing is deliberately misleading. Increasing social housing doesn’t lead to an increase in public housing. In fact, a report on the redeveloped Kensington estate7 found a loss of 265 public housing units under this program, which resulted in a $45 million profit for developer Brecton. There is no doubtsocial housing is important, but it’s not what Victorians need. We need more publichousing available to help our vulnerable community members. We don’t need to helpboost the profits of greedy property developers.

Second, we should not be selling off public assets to private companies. The only winners in privatisation are the big developers who will profit massively off taking away our public land. In order to address the growing waiting list, leader of the Victorian Greens Samantha Ratnam stressed the need8 for long-term investment in public housing. This is impossible if we keep giving away public land to greedy investors. The only reason the Victorian Government is defending this program is so they can experience a short-term sugar hit. Selling off the Kensington Estate, gave the government just under $6 million. But the people paying the price are the tenants and those waiting for a home. Long-term tenants are forced out of their homes and left in the dark. The vulnerable people waiting for public housing are left in limbo.

The deal for current tenants

Under the program, tenants are forced to relocate during construction. Clouded in uncertainty, they have not been provided with adequate information regarding where they are going, when and for how long. Submissions to the inquiry into the public housing renewal program9 revealed tenants have not been consulted about their relocation, and despite being told otherwise, a report found it is unlikely they would be able to return to their homes10 once developments have been completed. Residents who rely on nearby medical services are forced to find alternatives or simply go without.Young families will need to disrupt their child’s education so the government can makea quick buck. No one disputes that these sights are run down and in need of a renovation. But these buildings are not old. Low maintenance over the years from successive apathetic Governments is the only reason these buildings have been allowedto get to their current state. With more people being displaced, it’s likely we willcontinue to see both an increase of people experiencing homelessness, and in the waiting time for a home for those sleeping rough.

The deal for public housing applicants

There is a correlation between the lack of investment in public housing by successive governments,11 and the increase in people experiencing homelessness, shown in a submission to the inquiry of the Public Housing Renewal Program. As working conditions become increasingly unstable, and the ongoing stagnation of wages,12 the amount of people impacted by the housing crisis will continue to rise. Housing stress is an increasingly common burden. People are forced to make the choice between puttingfood on the table and paying this month’s rent. A 2017 research paper from the Victorian Parliament13 showed housing stress most commonly occurs in low-income homes, pushing more people out of the private market and seeking out affordable and public housing. The inaccessibly to both the private and rental market is also reflected in the increased number people being forced to sleep in their cars, in a report by the Chief Executive of Council to Homeless Persons14. There is a visibly clear link between the lack of investment in public housing and the dramatic increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness. For too long, successive governments have made thedecision to neglect public housing investment. The men in suits, whose only ‘glimpse’into the reality of sleeping rough is through virtual reality headsets15 at the annual CEOSleepout will never deal with the burden of the decisions they are making. It’s theordinary people sleeping in their cars who are.

Is there a solution?

The solution is simple. We need our government to continuously invest in public housing. There is no other option. We cannot allow shortcuts like the renewal program that disadvantage vulnerable people to continue. Addressing the housing crisis requires successive governments to commit to a long-term, ongoing investment in building and maintaining public housing. Social Impact investment16 is an option to consider. Encompassing initiatives such as build-to-rent model, social impact investment provides long-term rentals to low-income earners. This plan would still involve somepublic control over public land. However, this initiative alone doesn’t address theincrease in people experiencing homelessness. Victoria needs a plan for addressing the housing crisis that doesn’t require people to engage with unhelpful services to provethat they are worthy for a home. We need a Housing First17 approach that prioritises providing permanent housing to those experiencing homelessness. A stable home is a platform from which initiatives to find a job and deal with personal issues can be pursued. It makes perfect sense, its impossible to adequately live your life without a permanent base to sleep and eat. A 2016 report by Launch Housing18 revealed Housing Fist initiatives to be overwhelmingly successful, which should come at no surprise. Initiatives that place barriers to housing, such as attendance requirements to services, have failed. We need to get out of the victim blaming mentality that eradicates any consideration of social, political and economic factors that cause people to turn to public housing and experience homelessness. Until we build more public housing, we arentgoing to reduce that waiting list. Melbourne may be the world’s most liveable city, onlyfor those who can afford to live there.

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, March 2018 2 Chalkley-Rhoden, S ‘Victorian renters pushed to the limit by record low affordability’,July 2017 low-in-victoria/8676532 3 Tran, D & Stayner, G, ‘Victorian public housing waiting list at 82,000 and growing by500 a month’, 6 June 2018 housing-waiting-list-growing-by-500-a-week/9837934 4 Public Housing Renewal Program, March 2018 housing-renewal-program 5 Department of Human Services, ‘Public Housing’, November 2017 6 Department of Human Services, ‘Community Housing’, February 2018

7 Lucas, C & Preiss, B ‘Developers profit from prime land, as thousands wait for public housing’, June 2018 from-prime-land-as-thousands-wait-for-public-housing-20180605-p4zjn8.html 8 Ratnam, S ‘Public housing sell-off is a raw deal for everybody in Victoria’, February2018 deal-for-everybody-in-victoria-20180216-p4z0md.html

9 PHRP Submission 32, _Renewal_Program/Submissions/S32-ARAG.pdf 10 Lucas, C ‘Vulnerable public housing tenants in limbo as redevelopments proceed’,April 2018 tenants-in-limbo-as-redevelopments-proceed-20180401-p4z7br.html

11 PHRP Submission 171, _Renewal_Program/Submissions/S171-Name_withheld.pdf 12 Chalkley-Rhoden, S ‘Victorian renters pushed to the limit by record low affordability’,July 2017 low-in-victoria/8676532

13 Raynor, K, Dosen, I & Otter, C ‘Housing Affordability’, Research paper no. 6, December2017 Housing-affordability-in-Victoria.pdf 14 Smith, J ‘Housing Affordability causing stress and suffering in Australia’, June 2016 in-australia-20160623-gpqg6m.html

15 Zhou, N ‘CEO Sleepout criticised as a dystopian for homelessness simulation with VRheadsets’, June 2017 sleepout-criticised-as-dystopian-for-homeless-simulation-with-vr-headsets 16 Lane, I ‘The responses to Australia’s Housing and Homelessness crisis’ June 2018 homelessness-crisis/

17 National Alliance to end Homelessness, Housing First, April 2016

18 Launch Housing, ‘Housing First: permanent supported accommodation for people with psychosis who have experienced chronic homelessness’ 2016 ESCG-full.pdf

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