VINNIES’ national leader is seeking an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to talk about housing as a separate call goes out for the Queensland Government to do more to avoid a “homelessness crisis”.
The St Vincent de Paul Society’s national president Claire Victory was motivated to request a meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison after the release of the 2020 Rental Affordability Index revealed bad news on Australia’s housing rental market.
National Shelter, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Bendigo Bank and SGS Economics & Planning released the index on December 1.
On the same day, the Queensland Government announced its 2020/21 State Budget and Vinnies’ Queensland chief executive officer Kevin Mercer was urging the Government to avoid a “homelessness crisis” by considering a greater investment in social housing.
Ms Victory was moved to go further.
“Today I am writing to the Prime Minister, seeking a meeting to discuss the supply of housing as a matter of urgency,” she said.
“This problem should not only sit with Commonwealth and state housing ministers.
“It requires significant political leadership from the Prime Minister down.”
Ms Victory said details in the 2020 Rental Affordability Index were “a further indication of the urgent need for a significant injection of funding into social and affordable housing across all jurisdictions, including from the Commonwealth”.
She said that even with the COVID supplement, JobSeeker recipients faced unaffordable rents in most Australian capital cities.
Commenting before the Queensland Budget announcement, Ms Victory said she had acknowledged “the generous injection by the Victorian Government of $5.3 billion and the more modest commitment from NSW”.
“But I repeat the call for the Federal Government to establish a social housing fund of at least $10 billion to augment the efforts of the states and territories to address the chronic shortage of safe, affordable housing in Australia,” she said.
“Governments know there is a shortfall of over 400,000 dwellings nationally.
“This emergency requires a strategic, consistent plan which provides a solution for the next 25 to 30 years.
“We know that access to safe, secure, affordable housing is widely recognised as a vital determinant of wellbeing – it is associated with better outcomes in health, education and employment, as well as economic and social participation.
“We have available vacant land and shovel-ready projects ready to build urgently needed accommodation, but struggle to secure funding from the relevant jurisdiction.
“The Commonwealth must demonstrate leadership in this space if the terrible state of housing affordability in this country is to be addressed.
“The longer we see obfuscation on long-term, united planning the longer we condemn existing and future generations of home renters to poverty.”
On the same day, Vinnies Queensland called on the State Government to escalate its investment in social housing.
It said the $526.2 million allocated in the State Budget was “a good start, but not enough”.
“This equates to only 1644 homes if the entire $526.2 million was committed to constructing social houses,” Mr Mercer said, citing that the national average cost to build a home was $320,000 in 2020.
“This falls short of the 8750 homes needed each year for the next 20 years to offer a dignified response, ensuring every Queenslander has a safe place to sleep.
“We are facing a social housing crisis, and in turn, a homelessness crisis unless a meaningful and long-term investment is made in social and affordable housing.”
Vinnies said that even before COVID-19, the state faced a significant homelessness problem with nine out of the 20 national homelessness hotspots in Queensland.
There was an 84 per cent increase in requests for government housing support from May to July this year.
“The Queensland commitment is less than nine per cent of the $5.3 billion investment Victoria has made to build more than 12,000 new social and affordable homes over four years, and to upgrade existing public housing,” Mr Mercer said.
“If we don’t act now, more people will fall through the cracks with rising levels of both unemployment and under-employment.
The recent Labour Force report indicated that 39,800 full-time jobs had been lost over the past 12 months and unemployment had increased by more than 40,000.
Vinnies said job creation had been for part-time roles, and this added to the under-employment problem.
“We need a greater response now,” Mr Mercer said.
“Social housing creates jobs in construction and jobs in the social services sector, importantly a predominantly female workforce, and reduces the burden on welfare as it costs the taxpayer less to house someone than to have them live on the streets.”
Mr Mercer said 38 per cent of applicants on the housing waitlist were families with children who would be “considerably impacted” as a result of limited investment.
“We know there’s a direct correlation between a lack of social housing and homelessness, and vulnerable children are the worst-affected,” he said.
“The impacts of homelessness on children are dire – it affects mental health, emotional and behavioural stability, leads to food insecurity and overall, adverse health and education outcomes.”
St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland supported more than 279,000 Queenslanders last year including more than 21,000 homeless, provided housing and crisis accommodation for more than 181,000 nights, and $3.7 million in food support including food parcels and vouchers to those in financial stress.
It has provided $9.6 million in direct emergency assistance, $7 million through disaster assistance in response to bushfire, drought and COVID-19 crises, and overall $272 million in services and support through Vinnies Queensland, Vinnies Housing and Ozcare in the past financial year.