Nation at risk of homelessness surge – National Monitor

Centre for Social Impact

Australia’s homelessness rate is set to surge as short-term coronavirus income and housing protections are ended, according to the second Australian Homelessness Monitor released today.

Pre-pandemic, homelessness had climbed by 14 per cent – to around 290,000 Australians – in the four years to 2018-19.

Launch Housing commissions the Monitor, which is produced by UNSW (City Futures Research Centre and the Centre for Social Impact) and the University of Queensland, to track key homelessness indicators, analyse changes and assess government actions that respond to the issue.

Lead Researcher, UNSW Professor Hal Pawson said homelessness in Australia had been temporarily supressed by COVID-19 measures and had even fallen slightly in April-June.

“Unprecedented pandemic action by the states has seen at least 33,000 rough sleepers and others booked into hotels and similar temporary accommodation around the country since March,” he said.

“At the same time, data shows that emergency income supports, backed by eviction moratoria saw homelessness and rental stress temporarily subside by mid-year.

“However, many of those hotel-housed have since returned to street homelessness, particularly in inner city Adelaide and Sydney, where rough sleeping has been once more on the rise.

“It appears that only a minority of the hotel-housed will emerge from the crisis permanently housed, despite welcome action by the NSW and Victorian Governments to temporarily expand capacity by leasing private rental properties.

“The extreme shortage of social and affordable housing presents a huge challenge here. Decades of belt-tightening have seen Australia’s social housing supply effectively halved since the 1990s. This reflects a long-term policy failure by both levels of government and calls for a revived national social housing program as part of a wider Commonwealth-led reform package.”

Launch Housing Chief Executive, Bevan Warner said the withdrawal of income protections and the end of eviction moratoria would push thousands to the brink.

“As income support falls and unemployment and small business failure rises, we will see a resurgence of rental and mortgage stress, that will almost certainly flow through to increased homelessness,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be this way.

“Before the health crisis, national expenditure on homelessness ’emergency services’ rose by 27 per cent in the four years to 2018-19 and was on track to reach $1 billion in 2020. In contrast, social housing spending increased by just 4 per cent over the same period, a real decline relative to population.

“This means we’ve been spending close to seven times more in crisis solutions – often just band-aid action – than we have been to properly fix the problem.

“We can end homelessness but not without more homes.

“The Federal Treasurer and the Reserve Bank Governor both recognise that social housing is a productive investment especially when private investment dries up. That time is now.

“The worst part is that the $1 billion spent on ’emergency’ responses leaves us without even a single new home for someone to live in. With record low interest rates this money could be better used building homes and getting people paying rent.

“Australia’s challenge is taking the homelessness prevention successes achieved during COVID-19 and integrating them into more housing and more support instead of relying on band-aid interventions that are costly and only lessen the harm for a short period of time.

“Homelessness is bad for health, the economy and bad for our society at all times, not just during pandemics.”

Key data from the second Australian Homelessness Monitor:

  • Australians aged over 65 are the fastest-growing homelessness cohort. While still relatively small in number, there has been a 33 per cent increase in older Australians with nowhere to live in the past four years.
  • Family and domestic violence followed by mental health issues are the most common factors behind homelessness.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experience homelessness rates ten times higher than the general the population.
  • Inner regional areas of Australia such as Ballarat, Newcastle and Townsville have witnessed particularly rapid increases in homelessness, up 30 per cent over the past four years – more than double the national rise of 14 per cent.
  • In the four years to 2018-2019, the national increase in house prices was 22 per cent, while typical household incomes rose by just 6 per cent.
  • During the first half of 2020 during COVID-19, private sector rents in Greater Sydney and Melbourne fell by 7 percentage points. Rent prices in Brisbane and Perth remained largely stable in this period.
  • In the decade to 2016, the shortfall of private rental properties affordable for low income tenants grew by 54 per cent.

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