This week is national Homelessness Week.
As an awareness week it works a treat, like flicking a switch and suddenly the homeless become the focus of our moral concern.
The sad fact is that homeless people are with us throughout the year.
According to the latest Census data, 116,000 people are homeless in Australia. This staggering figure is up by more than 14,000 – or 14 per cent – in the five years to 2016.
Rough sleepers are the most visible face of homelessness, but they represent only a small fraction (about one in 12) of the homeless population.
Most people experiencing homelessness, particularly women with children, go out of their way not to be noticed, staying with friends, in emergency accommodation, or living out of their cars.
Others are living in tents and caravans or overcrowded or sub-standard accommodation.
Some people would not even call themselves homeless, as they have a roof over their heads.
We call them houseless, and homelessness and houselessness are on the rise in Bendigo.
As a fully integrated homelessness and housing provider, we know only too well how people on low incomes are being squeezed out of our failing housing market and into homelessness.
Properties once rented out by investors are being snapped up by savvy first-home buyers and bargain hunting upsizers from Melbourne.
Add to this Victoria’s rapid population growth, new job opportunities, and Bendigo’s proximity to Melbourne, and you are putting further pressure on the rental market.
In the two years to January 2018, the private rental vacancy rate in Bendigo fell from 2.3 per cent to just one per cent.
Great if you’re a landlord, but disastrous for low-income earners.
The average rent for a one-bedroom unit is $185 a week, a two-bedroom unit is $245 a week, and for families a three-bedroom house costs about $300 a week.
That seems pretty affordable, right? Wrong, particularly if you on government support payments.
The measure of housing affordability is universally pegged at 30 per cent of household income.
A single person on Newstart receives about $345 per week, so renting a one-bedroom unit means they would spend 54 per cent of their income on rent, while a single parent with two children receives $650 a week.
Renting an average three-bedroom house would soak up 46 per cent of their meagre income.
For the private rental market to function properly and to provide more affordable options there needs to be about a three per cent vacancy rate.
It has often been said that our tax system is rigged against renters.
Negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions are driving up the cost of rent, causing record levels of rental stress and homelessness.
Haven; Home, Safe is not alone in calling for a national housing strategy, a plan to end homelessness, a better deal for renters, and an urgent investment in social housing like the $2.78 million Victorian Property Fund grant we received last week to build 16 new homes.
So, if you think everybody should have a home, demand better and add your name to the Everybody’s Home campaign for a better, fairer housing system for everyone.