Housing Stress and Homelessness

As many members of this House know, housing stress and homelessness are currently the issues that present most frequently in our electorate offices. Every week several constituents, who often are in a state of quiet desperation as they face eviction and struggle to find a suitable new home they can afford, attend my electorate office.

Last week my colleague and shadow Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Yasmin Catley, attended a forum I organised in the Blue Mountains that focused on the topic, “No Grounds Eviction”. Workers at the coalface who assist people suffering from housing stress or experiencing homelessness attended the forum as well as constituents who had been evicted on no grounds. Workers and constituents all agreed that the current legislation permitting no-grounds eviction places good tenants at an unfair disadvantage.

The forum heard numerous accounts of tenants requesting repairs and, as a result, finding themselves being served with an eviction notice, with little legal redress available. One family explained that as their 18-year- old son was preparing for the Higher School Certificate [HSC]; the family had to move after being served with a notice to quit. Through no fault of their own, they had to find another home. This was very difficult for them as a family of four. They were on a low income with both parents suffering disability.

The timing could not have been worse. Another tenant, an older man living alone, told us that as a result of being evicted he simply could not find suitable accommodation in his price range in the Blue Mountains and was facing homelessness.

This week two community members arrived at my electorate office looking for urgent housing help. One man in his fifties is facing eviction in 10 days’ time. He and his adult son suffer from mental illness and other disabilities. They have been living together so they can afford rent. They now face eviction with no funds and little opportunity to secure an affordable rental property. Another man, a survivor of torture in his country of origin who has been left with significant mental and physical disability, can no longer manage the steps in his room. He too faces eviction. In spite of his disability and poor financial situation and evidence that he cannot find suitable and affordable housing, he is deemed able to secure private rental and has been declined consideration for priority housing.

None of these people are in a position to resolve their housing problems without significant support from community and advocacy services.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute reported recently on the extent of housing need in Australia. The institute estimated that 1.3 million households are in a state of housing need, whether they are unable to access market housing or are in a position of rental stress. The figure is predicted to rise to 1.7 million by 2025.

With the lack of social housing and subsidised rental housing, many households are locked out of the rental market. Those who do access the private rental market will spend well over 30 per cent of their income on housing, placing them in a position of financial stress. Responses to this lack of affordable housing have been largely on the demand side, such as first home buyer concessions, but such incentives are no use to low-income households.

To help them, intervention must be on the supply side and must be done within the framework of public, social and permanent affordable housing, not generous concessions to property developers who flood the market with low-quality high-rises such as those that we see in Alexandria.

We need a major reinvestment in local housing that supports a range of tenants, not only the most disadvantaged and marginalised. We need greater investment in community services that provide tenant advocacy to assist people to resolve their housing matters before they are evicted and homeless. Current services are overwhelmed by requests for assistance. They can only assist those at the very tip of the iceberg.

And what happens to the people who do not make it to the door of those services? In many instances, those requiring housing assistance or those who are not homeless do not have the skills and experience to get the help they need and are entitled to. Often they do not even know what help is available. We need community services that provide coordination and assistance to people in filling in housing applications, applications for housing assistance and social housing.

I acknowledge and thank all the workers in the Blue Mountains who dedicate themselves to assisting the most vulnerable, particularly Jo Hibbert and Ben Connor from Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre; Angelique Sasagi, Jaime Mack and Emma Schofield at Thrive Services; the fabulous staff at Wentworth Community Housing; West Connect Domestic Violence Services; and Rosa Del Ponte from Earth Recovery Australia.

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