From sky-high house prices to rental stress and rising homelessness, Australia’s housing affordability problem is not going away.
With 194,600 people currently on social housing waiting lists in Australia, and an estimated one in 200 people homeless on any given night, the question of how to solve this growing crisis is one that demands national attention.
In May, the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute released a report detailing how “social-impact investment” could help improve housing and homelessness in Australia.
“We have a situation where homelessness has increased by 14 per cent between 2011-2016, median mortgage and rent has increased over the last decade far beyond median household income, and over one million households are in housing stress,” inquiry lead and UNSW Centre for Social Impact CEO Kristy Muir said.
Social-impact investment encompasses a variety of methods that increase capital investment in affordable housing. This can be through property funds, housing supply bonds or investing in social enterprises.
A prominent example of social-impact investing is the build-to-rent model, in which developers – usually in partnership with a public body – provide long-term rentals to low-income earners at sub-market rates.
“In practice [social impact investing] could make more affordable homes available for rent or for purchase for low-income earners,” Dr Muir said.
“It could also increase the supply of fit-for-purpose social housing for people with complex needs.”
‘We will see a lot more homelessness in Australia’
While social-impact investing has a place, it’s not a panacea for the nation’s affordability and homelessness problem, National Shelter executive officer Adrian Pisarski said.
“It’s a part of the housing story, but I think the scale of the problem in affordable housing is so large that I don’t think social-impact investing can do that job,” Mr Pisarski says.
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that the number of Australians seeking help from homelessness organisations has risen 19 per cent over the past four years, with 288,273 Australians seeking help in 2016-2017.
According to the AIHW, a quarter of homelessness service clients – 261 people a day – were turned away from help last year. A lack of affordable housing and family violence were the key drivers of homelessness, with women comprising 60 per cent of people who sought homelessness assistance.
The reality of the situation is grim, with government funding for social housing on “starvation rations“, and National Shelter estimating a shortfall of half a million properties for the lowest two income quintiles.
Australia is returning to a Dickensian era where people are forced to cram into unsafe, overcrowded private rentals if governments don’t take action to increase the affordable housing supply, Mr Pisarski said.
“We’ve had essentially the same amount of baseline money going into social housing and homelessness for about 20 years and yet our population has grown by 30 per cent,” he said.
“The bottom line is there will be more homelessness. We will see a lot more homelessness in Australia, there’s no way around that.”
‘Rebalancing’ the housing system
In March, an alliance of housing, homelessness and community sector bodies launched Everybody’s Home, a national campaign aimed at “rebalancing the housing system” for ordinary Australians.
Described as a “roadmap for how we can fix every part of our housing system”, Everybody’s Home calls for government action on tax reform, stronger legislation to protect renters, and the implementation of a national housing strategy.
“With real effort we can halve homelessness in five years – and end it in 10,” the campaign states.
According to Everybody’s Home spokesperson Kate Colvin, genuine home buyers are missing out to people “building investment portfolios”.
“There’s a chronic shortage of social and affordable rental options, and it’s causing record levels of homelessness,” she said.
“We need to address the entire housing system to make sure every Australian has a safe, secure roof over their head whether they’re buying, renting or at risk of homelessness.”