Christine’s strategy to solve the housing crisis – for good

Housing is a basic human right.  When a nation denies it’s citizens, via gross economic mismanagement, the capacity to afford even the most basic housing, it is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Australia is a signatory.

Not since the great depression has there been a class of working poor and pensioners unable to afford even the most basic housing, condemned to sleeping rough and finding what shelter they can.

This is a crime against the nation and we must put our political parties on notice. This situation has been caused by ideologically driven bad economic policy from both political parties, that has dispossessed decent, hardworking Australians of their homes, so that property speculators can get rich. This is un-Australian and must stop.

We demand immediate non-partisan action to rectify the disparity between wages and house prices so that the lowest incomes are once again able to afford decent housing.

We also demand immediate action to secure vast amounts of housing beyond the reach of the speculative housing economy, so that the average Australians can never again be driven out of safe shelter by property speculators gambling with our homes and our lives.

There are two possible pathways to creating affordable housing stock.

  • The first is to build new stock that will be rented at affordable prices for low income earners and pensioners.
  • The second is to return housing stock that has been alienated from the affordable rental market, back to that market.

In either or both cases, the stock added to the affordable rental market must have controlled rents so that rents can never again outstrip the capacity of low income earners to pay, and decent citizens are never again forced from their homes as a result of uncontrolled property speculation.

As the current number of homeless is over 100,000 and potentially approaching 200,000, and that figure is predicted to reach 500,000 before any long-term economic management strategies can rectify the situation, we must address crisis housing needs now, immediately, while we wait for long term economic re-balancing strategies to take effect.

  1. We must create a National Housing Authority to review our entire housing system and ensure on-going security of housing
  2. We must prioritise an emergency strategy to house the existing homeless in temporary accommodation until permanent solutions can be found.

1  Create a National Housing Authority

We must form a national body to take responsibility for housing. This body starts from the premise that all Australians have a right to a safe home, as a basic human right.

It has the responsibility for designing and implementing a plan to ensure that all Australians have safe shelter. All political parties will be asked to commit to this process, without interference, for a minimum of 10 years so that the National Housing Authority can operate free of political collusion and political threats.

It has four key areas of interest, comprising a total of 10 different but related responsibilities.

General
  • Responsibility 1 – Create a national housing strategy
Review Public and Social Housing
  • Responsibility 2 – Review all government funding for housing, at all levels of government
  • Responsibility 3 – Review all public and social housing providers to remove inefficiencies
  • Responsibility 4 – Actively manage fast-track sustainable housing developments
  • Responsibility 5 – Identify different homeless demographics based on behavioural expectations
  • Responsibility 6 – Develop an opt-in range of housing options for Stream 1 public and social housing tenants
  • Responsibility 7 – Develop a respectful and fair tenancy management strategy for Stream 1 public and social housing tenants
Review Private Rental Housing
  • Responsibility 8 – Establish  basic minimum housing standards for private rental housing
  • Responsibility 9 – Review the rental tenancy system nation wide to ensure private rental tenants rights
Review Emergency Housing

 

General

Responsibility 1 – Create a national housing strategy

It’s first responsibility is to formulate and manage a national housing strategy to which the all state and local government housing bodies are answerable.  This national housing strategy must create a nation-wide plan to house all currently homeless people across the nation and ensure that additional people do not fall into homelessness based solely on the disparity between incomes and house prices.  This means it has the responsibility to secure a minimum of 100,000 additional affordable homes outside of the speculative economy immediately, and ensure that the 400,000 people who are at risk are not forced out of their current housing.

Review Public and Social Housing

Responsibility 2 – Review government housing funding including both the funding of and taxing of affordable developments

It’s second responsibility is to rationalise the entire system of government funding, government subsidies and current and new tax breaks to enable the immediate provision of a state funded, low-cost, state secured, environmentally and socially sustainable public housing supply that is protected from housing market speculation.

An initial starting point for reviewing policy would be the document, ‘The Aussie Housing Affordability Crisis: An Honest Debate’, by Dick Smith.  This would set the initial agenda for review, but not the final terms of reference nor the outcomes.  This review will deal with the political, economic and structural planning that must be put into place to redress the current disparity between wages and house prices.  Any measures taken at this level will be long-term and will not immediately reduce homelessness. Measures to re-balance the economy must be taken, but it will be necessary to take interim measures to house the homeless while the broader economic re-balancing takes place.

Responsibility 3 – Review and rationalise all existing public and social housing provision to remove inefficiencies

It’s third responsibility is to rationalise the ludicrously inefficient mish mash of state housing providers, social housing providers and local government initiatives that are impossible for the homeless to navigate, hugely wasteful and prone to mismanagement and corruption.

Ensure equity in housing provision across the nation

The most vulnerable are the least likely to be able to navigate the system and find themselves housed. There are some excellent and some appalling regionally based programs, that mean that housing provision is anything but equitable.  It is the luck of the draw and who you know, that determines whether an individual wins the housing lottery or remains homeless.This equity must also include the right of elderly tenants to age in place.

Ensure a client focus in housing provision across the nation

In the process of rationalising this system, a way must be devised to make these services not only equitable but also client focused.  Client needs and not provider policies and constraints must drive the provision and allocation of housing. Much of the current system depersonalises the applicant for housing and makes no attempt to match the client with a suitable property.  This is not only a “nice to have”.  Implementing a client first approach would minimise waste over time as clients will be satisfactorily housed first time round, in buildings and locations that match their needs and do not cause them further duress.

All political parties must commit to maintaining sufficient funding over the 10 year period for this body to be able conduct a thorough review of existing housing providers, and to implement the necessary changes to redress inequities and shortfalls.

Responsibility 4 – Establish  basic minimum housing standards below which private landlords are unable to rent to tenants

It’s fifth responsibility is to create and maintain minimum rental housing standards. It now seems to be possible and even legal for anyone to rent anything to anyone, as accommodation, with no basic minimum safety or health standards except fire alarms.  A National Housing Authority would be required to create minimum health and safety requirements for permanent living which would include such aspects as minimum floor  and window area, minimum entry and exit points, minimum ventilation standards, minimum air quality standards, minimum sanitation requirements, minimum ceiling heights etc.  These minimums would become the base level for all council approvals for permanent dwellings for permanent rental.  Councils would be required to oversee all existing and new rental property to ensure that it complies with or exceeds these minimum standards.

Responsibility 5 – Actively manage fast-track sustainable housing developments

It’s fourth responsibility is to initiate, actively manage and fast-track immediate sustainable and affordable housing developments to add housing stock to the current national estate of affordable housing.  This is essential to address some part of the the existing crisis in housing and the rapidly inflating levels of homelessness.  See Appendix 1 below for an example of how this might be managed.

Responsibility 6 – Identify different demographics based on behavioural expectations

It’s sixth responsibility is to identify the housing needs of different demographics and ensure they are all catered to in an appropriate manner. The current allocation of housing support is largely “one size fits all”, with little attempt to ensure the housing suits the applicant before they are placed. This is ludicrously wasteful.

Identify two Streams of homeless people

There are a number of different demographic groups finding themselves homeless.  We need a minimum of two streams of potential tenants for public housing, assessed purely on behavioural, not financial terms.  There are those who can be trusted to care for their properties and integrate seamlessly into any neighbourhood. These are Stream 1.

Then there are those who pose a risk to the safety and security of a neighbourhood, and cannot be trusted to both care for their properties and their neighbours.  These are clients with complex needs and can be identified as Stream 2. Each Stream requires a different approach to housing if their needs are to be properly addressed.

Stream 1 – the financially challenged

The recent escalation in homelessness is the result of the growing disparity between house prices and incomes.  The new homeless are financially challenged but they are not socially challenged. Stream 1 just need affordable housing.  They are quick, easy and cheap to re-home.  Just provide the affordable housing and they will do the rest.  A variation on this is women escaping domestic violence who will need emergency shelter before they are re-homed, mostly as Stream 1 tenants.  Refuges for women and children escaping violent men must be maintained as a separate resource in addition to providing long-term housing for these women when they leave the refuges. Currently many of these women return to their abusers because they cannot secure either private rental or public housing.

For a description of this demographic see Who are “the new homeless”?

Stream 2 – the socially challenged

The other more traditional group is those who are socially challenged.  Some lack the skills to maintain themselves in housing even if they could afford it. Some lack the skills to behave in a respectful way towards their neighbours and do pose a danger to the neighbourhood they reside within.  These are the drug users, drug dealers, petty criminals, and the like.

Stream 2 need much more help. They need staged housing to serve them as they recover from their anti-social behaviours, whatever those are.  They need overnight crisis accommodation – none should be left sleeping rough.  They need transitional housing where they are given their own four walls and a key, while they get the help they need to sort themselves out. During this process they get the opportunity to rehabilitate and move from Stream 2 to Stream 1, providing they are able to demonstrate that they no longer pose a danger to women and children. But initially they are housed in facilities designed exclusively for Stream 2 people. These must be segregated at least by gender so the Stream 2 women are protected from the Stream 2 men.

This paper does not address the housing needs of this group, which is, at most, 6-10% of the total homeless figures.

It is anticipated that the National Housing Authority would partner with the existing providers to this sector to develop a full strategy that guarantees emergency and short-term housing for all Stream 2 individuals, and emergency and short-term housing for women escaping domestic violence.

For a discussion on the impact of the Stream 2 demographic on the provision of safe housing, see The elephants in the room.

Responsibility 7 – Develop an opt-in range of housing options for Stream 1 tenants

The current system is that there are houses on a register, and when one comes available, the eligible person on the top of the list is offered the house.  There is little attempt to pair a person with a property so that they suit one another.

There needs to be a range of housing options from which an eligible tenant can pick the most suitable.  There are many examples of these ideas in existence now but they are piecemeal and scattered around the country and there is no equity of access to them. These must be standardised across the country so that all Australians have an equal and fair opportunity to access these options.  By way of illustration, individuals could opt-in for one or more of the following  options:

  • Self-build ownership schemes for younger/fitter people who have the physical capacity to build their own homes
  • Rent to buy schemes for young couples whose economic outlook is likely to improve and who are likely to have the financial capacity to pay off a mortgage
  • Long-term rental options in purpose built sustainable community hamlets or villages for those unable to pay mortgages
  • Assisted co-housing schemes for individuals with some equity but not enough income to afford standard mortgage repayments
  • Rental subsidy options for those who need to rent privately close to where they are able to find work. This replaces the current rental assistance payment.

When someone registers for housing assistance they are offered the choice that suits their circumstances best.  The level of opt-in for various options determines the direction of further funding for affordable housing.

Responsibility 8 – Develop a management strategy for Stream 1 tenants

Huge numbers of potential housing developments are being quite rightly blocked by local residents who are afraid of finding themselves living close to dangerous men.  This is a very real and justified fear which is also held by many homeless women. To counteract this fear, the new public housing developments from this point forward must be managed so as to minimise the danger for both the women placed in them and the current residents of the neighbourhood.

There are many potential ways of managing affordable housing, but the priority is to maintain the Stream system so that Stream 2 people are not placed in Stream 1 housing. When a development is initiated it is zoned Stream 1 or Stream 2 from the outset, with adequate housing and resources being provided for both Streams. This alone should remove the fear expressed by existing residents, who block affordable housing developments in their areas.

Review Private Rental Housing

Responsibility 9 – Establish  basic minimum housing standards below which landlords are unable to rent to tenants

It’s fifth responsibility is to create and maintain minimum rental housing standards. It now seems to be possible and even legal for anyone to rent anything to anyone, as accommodation, with no basic minimum safety or health standards except fire alarms.  A National Housing Authority would be required to create minimum health and safety requirements for permanent living which would include such aspects as minimum floor  and window area, minimum entry and exit points, minimum ventilation standards, minimum air quality standards, minimum sanitation requirements, minimum ceiling heights etc.  These minimums would become the base level for all council approvals for permanent dwellings for permanent rental.  Councils would be required to oversee all existing and new rental property to ensure that it complies with or exceeds these minimum standards.

Responsibility 10 – Review the rental tenancy system nation wide to ensure tenants rights

The nature of rental tenancy has changed significantly over the years, and has resulted in the current system where tenants have few rights and few protections from abuse by owners and particularly by real estate agents. At the same time, owners feel vulnerable because real estate agents are not finding them suitable tenants and so exposing their properties to damage. Most states are currently looking at tenants and owners rights to ensure both groups are looked after. In addition, the National Housing Authority should look at the role being played by both real estate agents and TICA in causing the problems they are claiming the to prevent.

Review emergency housing provision

Even at maximum efficiency, the National Housing Authority cannot address the existing housing shortage without interim or emergency measure to house the existing 100,000 to 200,000 homeless individuals now.  This will take some creative “rapid response”.

Action 1 – Completely reform the rent assistance system

Even if massive housing development is commenced now, or measures are taken to rectify the disparity between house prices and incomes, we still have enormous numbers – over 100,000 – who are already homeless, and even larger numbers sitting on the edge of homelessness. Numbers will get worse before they get better, with some estimating the numbers might reach as much as 500,000.

The only way to intervene and get the currently homeless immediately re-housed, is a massive change to the rent assistance system. As an interim measure we will need a completely reformed rent assistance process, nation-wide, to get those with stable incomes and pensions into existing housing that has been priced beyond their reach.  Current rent assistance is completely inadequate.

There are various other models used across the world, from which Australia could learn, but the essence is that rent assistance must fill the gap between what the eligible tenant can afford to pay and the price of the accommodation available to them.

There would need to be a fairly complex zoning of eligible housing areas, and realistic maximum prices set for eligible properties.

I believe this system exists in some places, but it should be reviewed and rolled out nation wide so all homeless people have equitable access to this kind of housing subsidy.  This has the added advantage of distributing the homeless seamlessly throughout the community and maintaining those people in commercial housing under normal commercial management, thus significantly reducing management costs.

Clearly this is not a cost-effective long-term strategy because tax-payer dollars are going into private pockets and not into increasing the national estate. However, it is an effective way to keep existing tenants in their homes thus prevent them from becoming homeless.  It would also be an effective way to enable those who want to get back into the rental market to do so.

It is being suggested as an interim measure to be regularly reviewed while permanent affordable housing is being made available to those in need.

Action  2 – Develop pop-up facilities for crisis accommodation

Emergency refuges

Pop-up emergency refuges are starting to appear with the conversion of closed hospitals and aged care facilities into “boarding house” type establishments.  This process must be massively expanded to house everyone who is currently living rough or living in vehicles of any kind, and who needs secure housing to deal with health and medical issues.  These MUST be segregated according to gender as there will be no behavioural assessment before entry to these establishments. There are homeless who will prefer to stay on the road or stay house-sitting or in private boarding houses, rather than risk the inherent dangers of these situations, but until the housing waiting lists are empty, some form of emergency housing must be made available for everyone who newly falls into housing crisis, or can no longer manage their own interim solutions.

An example of a pop-up refuge can be seen here.  Pop-up shelter for older women under housing stress to open in Melbourne

2  Women’s refuges and youth refuges

The existing crisis networks for women and youth at risk must be maintained and expanded so that no-one in need is turned away. Women in women’s refuges will be moved as a priority into permanent housing.

3  Pop-up hamlets and “mining towns”

Traditionally the poorest have been able to maintain a moderately decent independent lifestyle in the many long-term caravan parks dotted around the country.  These have almost all been alienated to the tourist industry or sold off for development.  Nothing has replaced them, so this group of people is now permanently homeless with no chance of finding any private rental they can afford.  The caravan parks must be replaced with something equivalent.  At least in the short term, whilst long-term economic issues are addressed and medium term solutions are implemented, it might be necessary to build the equivalent of “mining towns” in suitable places to provide the minimal level of shelter for those who have no other options.  If the sites are well selected, and community owned, the site infrastructure can be re-used to build longer-term sustainable communities over time.

Action  3 – Return empty and holiday dwellings to the permanent rental market

The impact of Airbnb

According to an ABC news report:

” Airbnb has rapidly taken off in Australia, with 115,000 listings for rooms or entire homes to be rented.

But new figures raise concerns that the site is swallowing up properties once available to locals to rent long-term, as landlords cash in on lucrative nightly rates for tourists.

The figures from the University of New South Wales show 60 per cent of Sydney’s 20,000 Airbnb listings are for entire homes.”  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-18/airbnb-in-australia-the-sharing-economy-has-a-dark-side/8624122

If that 60% is approximately correct nationwide,  60% of 115,000 is 69,000 homes that could be immediately returned to the rental market. If there is no way of returning those 69,000 homes to the rental market then 69,000 homes must be immediately built to replace them. See Appendix 1 for one way to do this.

The impact of investment property kept empty

On census night there were 1 million empty properties. Even given figures for houses legitimately empty for a variety of reasons, how many of these are maintained empty as investment properties. If only 10% of these were returned to the rental market, our current levels of homelessness would be solved. The National Housing Authority must immediately explore and implement options for returning this housing to the national housing market.

Appendix 1 – Build more affordable housing in rural areas

Free up government land in rural and city areas for affordable housing

Via the National Housing Authority, require all local government areas to identify suitable government owned land with close access to the necessary infrastructure (hospitals, public transport etc), for the creation of socially and environmentally sustainable hamlets, villages or communities.

This land will be subject to compulsory acquisition from the current government department that owns it, and placed into the ownership of the National Housing Authority, at a nominal cost. Sites of closed schools, closed railway stations, road easements never used, closed hospitals and similar come to mind. These will be used to develop low density sustainable communities with controlled rents.

The type of home built in any given development would be based on the housing waiting lists for that area.  If 80% of those waiting for homes are single then 80% of the housing provided will be suitable for singles. This will vary from area to area.

Develop a “clever design” strategy for all newly developed sustainable housing

We must stop building houses and start building sustainable communities. Sustainable means sustainable environmentally and also sustainable socially.  Much existing public and social housing is badly designed and harmful to the residents.  Their health and behaviour can be expected to deteriorate when housed in areas of high noise, high pollution, overcrowding, and lack of privacy, safety and security.  High density, badly designed housing is short sighted and unsustainable socially.

Developments should be low density in rural areas, and no more than medium density in city areas, attractive, and afford safety and privacy for the residents. Low density rural housing can be developed for a much lower cost than medium and high density city housing, so rural developments should be prioritised. Plenty of new and cost effective technologies now exist for the rapid building of cost-effective, attractive, pre-fabricated housing, with high environmental ratings, designed and built in Australia by Australian companies with Australian materials. New housing should not be constrained to traditional house building methods.

At the same time, we must not be tempted to drop existing building standards, as these have been proven to maintain decent living standards, and protect residents at the lower end of the housing market from substandard housing.

 

 

14 thoughts on “Christine’s strategy to solve the housing crisis – for good

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  1. HI Christine,
    Thank you for writing this strategy, which covers a lot of ground. I don’t think the social services sector will like the segregation of Stream 1 and Stream 2, but I can certainly see why this differentiation is needed.
    May I suggest that for 5. Develop a range of options for Stream 1 tenants, that the following be added:
    • Shared equity schemes – for those who are working but have little chance of paying off a full mortgage but have the capacity to pay a smaller mortgage if equity is split with a government secured equity partner.

    I have an issue with increasing rental assistance as it goes into private hands and could have the effect of increasing rents. But I can see there are cases where this would be desirable ie. allowing people to live near viable work.
    It might be better to provide other less direct incentives for landlords to take Stream 1 tenants (but can’t think of anything at the moment).
    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

    1. In my re-vamped version of this I am going to start with better rent assistance because it is the only way to get the existing homeless into the existing homes that are priced out of our range. That becomes the motivation for the government to provide pathways from rent assistance, which is seen as a crisis measure only, and rarely permanent, to permanent housing. Re shared equity, please correct me here if I am wrong, but are the co-housing thingies also shared equity? If they are not, then I will add it. Currently, as there is no pathway from rent assistance to permanent housing, rent assistance is permanent, which would increase costs over time. But I won’t be able to get to writing my new model for a while as I am moving again.

    2. I know the welfare workers will hate the two streams, but as they are not homeless themselves because of the behaviour of the stream 2 people, they have no say in the matter. They are full of politically correct polly-babble and have not one skerrick of reality in their beings! Failure to discriminate FOR women is discrimination AGAINST women, as we need protection from the substance abusers the same as everyone else.

  2. Hi, this is a really well thought out strategy. Just one granmar quibble – in the paragraphs that talk about the responsibilities of the National Housing Authority, “Its” needs to be used instead of “It’s” because “it’s” is the contraction of “It is”.
    For point 3, how much land do local governments actually own that would be suitable for use as housing? Local governments don’t hold much vacant land, in my experience from SA. Most Crown land that is suitable for housing has also been alienated into the private realm long ago.
    Good luck with pushing this Strategy out there, it is very important.

  3. I did check – this Indue card will apply to Bundaberg from January 2018, as well as the WA goldfields and Ceduna. It applies to every Centrelink payment, other than AP. So I would cross Bundaberg etc off the list. I live by shopping 2nd hand – imagine rules that prohibit this for so many low income.

  4. Small point. Using “Never before” twice in the second para. The housing situation was extremely bad during the 1920’s – 1930’s depression. On top of overcrowding and slum conditions was the policy that would not let two males in the same house collect “sustenence” (dole) so either a teenage boy or the father had to leave and look for work in the rural areas. Those men could not collect relief in the same town twice.
    This time it is named, recognised, predictable, and coming fast.

    1. Good. Fixed that wording. But at that time the men left home to find money. The women stayed housed until the house went.

    2. Just to add that during the Depression there was a genuine scarcity of resources for most of the population – now the scarcity is more due to inequality and greed.

  5. Just one small point – ‘Public Money’ rather than ‘tax payers’…we all pay tax ie GST. Using term ‘tax payer’ is a contemporary LNP tactic to marginalise those currently not in the paid workforce. I think it creates a false dichotomy between ‘payers’ and non payers, and hence feeds anger and resentment.

    1. OK, interesting point. I was trying to differentiate between government money where there is an implication that it belongs to them, and tax payer money which clearly states that the money belongs to us and should be spent the way we want it spent. Because we do ALL pay tax via the GST, taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, petrol etc, is it not reasonable to say tax payers’s money? I don’t think i ever thought that tax payers were only those who were working. I am posting this because I would like others to buy into this – language is soooo important. Public money or tax payers money? 50:50 or a distinct preference.

      1. Yes, I agree it should mean that – I hope it does. There is no doubt, however, that politicians use the term ‘tax payer’ to infer those in paid workforce eg Alan Tudge uses the words ‘tax payers want value for their money’ repeatedly when referring to that disgusting Indue card rolled out to (mostly) Indigenous communities, as well as other Centrelink policies that breach recipients and effectively leave them without income. I think the term has been used by shock jocks and politicians to divide the community. That’s my personal observations, so hope others comment.

        Thank you Christine for all your work into this article. Lets hope that we won’t be invisible to wider community for much longer.

      2. In saying that – best to check that rural towns are not in the Indue card sites. It is imposed on all welfare recipients (other than aged pension) in those areas – Kalgoorlie is one – makes no differentiation to whether that person has ever used drugs. The card is enormously problematic – no cash for markets, 2nd hand buying – even Aldis. You are forced onto the large businesses, Woolworths and Coles. Even getting rent payments approved is time consuming – insurance payments etc have to get approved (which is basically bureaucratic and lengthy ). As aged pension is not available for most of us until 67 (potentially 70) years of age this would be a big issue. It humiliates the user as ‘welfare’ and takes all power of decision making away. Indue company gets $10,00 per annum per card to administer. That company has Larry Anthony from the National Party as a Board member and share holder (who also makes large political donations to guess who).

        There is no doubt that some MPs want this card rolled out across Australia. It includes disability, sole parent, carers etc.

        Meanwhile, they state that there can be no increases to Centrelink payments.

        If you want me to check the communities then that’s fine. I know Ceduna and Kalgoorlie are included. There is a lot of talk about including Bundaberg.

        It is patriarchy at its worst.

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