The Australian Dream of owning your home has become a nightmare of unaffordable housing, writes David Goodwin.
Driving into any of Australia’s major or regional cities gives a sense of constant growth. It’s hard to miss new estates or neighbourhoods going up, with construction sites and houses in various stages of completion showing an outward expansion as the population grows and people look for cheaper housing on the edges.
Further inwards, every weekend you can see real estate agents placing signs, and crowds of people gathering for auctions and inspections. Larger blocks of land are subdivided to allow new houses to be built in established areas, meaning that you can often see new homes going up alongside stately older buildings.
Whether it is the construction of new houses, or the sale of old ones, the Great Australian Dream of owning your own home seems alive and well. It’s always been part of our national consciousness, and in previous generations there was almost an expectation that part of growing up was saving up and moving out of your parents’ house into one of your own, and home ownership a sign that you’d succeeded in making something of yourself.
But, increasingly, for many Aussies owning a home is becoming less of a real aspiration than a pipedream, and renting is becoming a way of life. Anyone who has had to find a rental would know how ferociously competitive it is, and high demand means that real estate agents and landlords can be very selective in choosing tenants.
This not only creates higher rental prices, and therefore higher bonds for people to try and find, but makes having a solid rental history and references vital. If you are someone with a steady job, part of the rental system and able to navigate the paperwork and processes of finding a place, you might be able to cope with this, but for a whole sector of the market this can make finding somewhere to live a real struggle.
For those on a low income, or out of work, the rental market can seem impossibly expensive. There’s an increasing impact on the elderly, and those on disability support payments. And when you add other complications, such as dealing with mental illness, or trying to make a new start after coming out of situations involving domestic violence, it can become even more daunting.
If we believe that housing is a basic human right then we need to get serious about it. Without stable, secure accommodation, everything else in a person’s life starts to fall apart.
~ Lisa Dalla-Zuanna, state manager of Salvation Army Housing (Victoria)
In 2017, Anglicare’s annual Rental Affordability Snapshot looked at 67,000 rental properties across one weekend and discovered that less than one per cent were affordable for people on the minimum wage or who were receiving Centrelink benefits. It also found that the number of properties affordable for people on the aged pension had been reduced by half. This was the worst result in the seven years the Snapshot had been taken.
This pressure continues to grow, and is not necessarily reflected just in homelessness figures. More and more people are turning to other forms of accommodation, such as the so called “peripheral rental market” involving informal arrangements like subleasing a spare room or a room in an unofficial boarding house. These arrangements can lead to exploitation of already vulnerable people. There is also a growth in families sharing overcrowded houses, or “couch surfing”, where people move from house to house, staying with friends and family.
Organisations such as Anglicare and The Salvation Army are trying to fill the gap by providing services that help people across a range of needs, from those at immediate risk of homelessness, to those who need help finding a long-term rental.
“If we believe that housing is a basic human right then we need to get serious about it. Without stable, secure accommodation, everything else in a person’s life starts to fall apart,” says Lisa Dalla-Zuanna, state manager of Salvation Army Housing (Victoria). “Our mission is to continue to increase housing security for people, and give hope for a strong housing future to those who do not have it.”
Salvation Army Housing (Victoria) runs a number of programs that reflect the need for flexible approaches that take into account the different challenges people are facing as they search for accommodation and a place to live, whether that is a short term stay or a long term solution.
Crisis Support Accommodation (CSA) is the provision of short-term supported accommodation—funded for an average stay of six weeks—for people in immediate crisis who require intensive support to stabilise their situation in order to determine further options.
There are also properties managed within The Transitional Housing Program (THP), which is designed to assist singles, couples and families, who are experiencing or are threatened with, homelessness, where lack of suitable housing is not the sole issue that has led to their current situation.
The THP offers short to medium-term housing, coupled with housing support provided by one of a number of partner support agencies. The program is designed to provide the tenant with the skills necessary to identify, secure and maintain suitable long term housing, as well as identifying and addressing any other contributory issues—such as substance misuse, family violence or mental health.
But, the Salvos also offer assistance for those who just need a little help finding a place. The target group for the Long Term Housing Management Program are singles, couples and families who are deemed capable of holding a tenancy agreement with little or no support. Properties within this portfolio include flats, units and houses ranging in size from one to four bedrooms.
This flexibility is reflected in the other services provided by Salvation Army Housing (Victoria), as well as by The Salvation Army in other states. Salvos Housing is the community and affordable housing provider for The Salvation Army in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
Its services include Supported Housing (or transitional housing), a form of accommodation that is provided for a short to medium term—generally while the client is also receiving support from another service.
Salvos Housing also provides social housing to those on very low to low incomes, similar to what is known as ‘public housing’ when provided by the government, or ‘community housing’ when supplied by a community housing organisation.
Through its Affordable Housing programs, the Salvos also provide accommodation targeted at households on low to moderate incomes. Generally, this is provided for households that would be struggling financially in the private market, and may include seniors and those with disabilities.
These are just part of the work the Salvos are doing across Australia, and reflect the belief that everyone deserves a roof over their head, and to feel safe and secure wherever they might be staying. That shouldn’t depend on being able to afford your own home, or being able to keep up with rising rental prices. It should be achievable for every Australian and, with your continued support, the Salvos will make sure it isn’t just a dream—but a reality.
Do you need help? Call the Salvos at 13 72 58