Sector calls for rental help to prevent homelessness

Posted on 23 Jan 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia


Mission Australia has called on the federal government to boost Commonwealth rent assistance by 50% in the wake of a new report highlighting the increasing number of low-income households in rental stress.

The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, released this week, revealed that two out of five low-income households were at risk of being pushed into homelessness in 2022–2023.

This is despite receiving rental assistance from Canberra.

The report also found:

  • more than a third (34.9%) of people seeking help from specialist homelessness services who needed accommodation did not have their housing needs met, up from 33.9% in 2021–22.
  • the number of households on waiting lists for social housing across Australia reached 224,326, with wait times for those identified as in greatest need increasing by four per cent.

Mission Australia CEO Sharon Callister said the report confirmed that the cost of living, inflationary pressures and rising rental stress are pushing more people into homelessness at a time when there are few affordable homes available to rent.

“It’s increasing the risk of homelessness for many, including people in paid employment and those who are staring down the barrel of homelessness for the first time in their lives,” said Ms Callister.

She said there simply are not enough accommodation options for everyone who needs them.

“These days, finding a rental that’s affordable is like finding a needle in a haystack.”

“Australia is in the midst of a housing and homelessness disaster, and governments must tackle this problem like they would for any other emergency and natural disaster – with urgency, collaboration, targeted investment and steely resolve.”
Mission Australia CEO Sharon Callister.

The Productivity Commission report found that low-income earners are particularly susceptible to housing instability and rental stress – defined as spending more than 30% of gross income on rent – as market factors fuel higher private housing prices.

The report revealed that federal government spending on the Commonwealth rent assistance program fell from a five-year high of $5.7 billion in 2020–2021 to $4.7 billion the following year.

Along with increasing rental assistance, Ms Callister called on the federal government to lift income support payments to at least $78 per day to prevent disadvantaged Australians falling into poverty and homelessness.

“With such a dysfunctional housing system, it’s no wonder demand for Mission Australia’s homelessness and housing services increased by 26% over the past three years,” she said.

The Productivity Commission report revealed federal and state governments spent more than $6.3 billion on social housing and homelessness services in 2022–23, an increase of 1.8% on the previous year.

Ms Callister said despite the increase, frontline homelessness service staff find it almost impossible to help vulnerable families and individuals find safe, secure accommodation, because the housing stock just isn’t available.

“Our frontline staff say the housing situation is the worst they’ve seen it, with no signs of reprieve.”

Mission Australia CEO Sharon Callister.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called Labor MPs to Canberra this week for a cost-of-living caucus to brainstorm ideas to help struggling Australians.

Ms Callister urged the PM and Treasurer Jim Chalmers to use the run-up to the May federal budget to boost investment in the National Housing and Homelessness Plan.

This should include increased investment designed to shift the homelessness system from its current crisis-driven band-aid approach, towards a system that actively prevents homelessness from occurring in the first place, she said.

In its submission to the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, Mission Australia called for:

  • the establishment of a $500 million Prevention Transformation Fund designed to allow frontline staff to focus on helping people avoid homelessness and provide support sooner
  • a commitment to build at least one million new social and affordable homes over the next 20 years.

Ms Callister acknowledged that existing government commitments would deliver about 50,000 social and affordable homes over the next five years, but said it simply was not enough.

“While we welcome this step forward, much more investment is needed to address the social and affordable home shortfall, long waiting lists and Australia’s homelessness emergency.

The Productivity Commission report said housing instability and homelessness can in turn increase vulnerability to adverse social and economic circumstances, resulting in poorer outcomes in education, employment and health, along with increased risk of involvement with the justice system.

“Australia is in the midst of a housing and homelessness disaster, and governments must tackle this problem like they would for any other emergency and natural disaster – with urgency, collaboration, targeted investment and steely resolve,” said Ms Callister.

More information

Housing crisis hits home

New figures reveal deepening homelessness crisis

Time to remove the helplessness from homelessness

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