Housing crisis can be fixed with pro-people policies

Photo: Pexels/Mart Production

The biggest housing crisis Australia has ever experienced is fast becoming a humanitarian disaster.

The for-profit system is completely broken as demand for housing and homelessness services has grown exponentially over the last five years.

An incredible 93% of those trying to access homelessness services are turned away each day.

Rents have risen by 25% in the last couple of years with regional areas particularly hard hit as wealthier people tree- and sea-changing cause prices to skyrocket.

Meanwhile wages are going backwards and cost of living pressures continue to bite. This sort of emergency does not happen by accident: it is the result of many calculated political decisions.

The major parties’ embrace of neoliberalism, since the 1980s, led to a property boom in which housing was no longer considered a human right, but a financial asset.

Today, if you are under the age of 40 and not in the property market, there’s little hope of ever entering.

Government greed, combined with neglect and policies encouraging speculation — capital gains tax and negative gearing — have played a large part in generating this crisis.

Tax concessions and loopholes for the wealthy mean society is being deprived of funds to expand public housing as well as other important social measures such as health and education.

While the rich grow their individual wealth, they push housing prices up effectively squeezing out the average worker. The flow-on effect makes private rentals unaffordable.

The 2021 Census showed there are more than 1 million properties sitting vacant across the country. It is legal for greedy landlords to sit on assets while so many have nowhere safe to live!

The below-the-poverty line welfare payments are a major barrier to obtaining housing: they keep people in a cycle of poverty. Affordable private rentals for JobSeeker and Youth Allowance recipients do not exist. Real estate agents commonly strike out rental applications from those on income support.

It is a political choice to keep people homeless and in poverty. The doubling of JobSeeker during the pandemic was an acknowledgement that governments know people cannot make ends meet: the low rates are, in fact, “punishment” for those without work.

Family violence is one of the main reasons women and children become homeless. Thousands of families are on the waiting list for crisis accommodation and there is no public housing. This means that women and children are turned away from homelessness services every day.

Of course, having a home does not always keep women safe. However, the severe housing shortage, combined with the high rents, often means women cannot leave the abusive — unless it’s to live on the street or in a car.

Socialist Alliance is campaigning for 100,000 new public affordable and sustainable housing places in an emergency plan for the next five years. That would ensure women stay safe.

Victorian Labor’s “big building program” involves building 12,000 properties over four years. That may sound good, but 9000 are going to be managed by for-profit community housing providers. In addition, there are more than 110,000 people on housing waiting lists.

Low to middle income working families are facing homelessness. Spending up to 60-70% of your income on a rental is not acceptable, or sustainable.

While people are living on the streets and in their cars, AirBNBs should not be able take long-term rentals out of the market.

The government has rebranded community and public housing as “social housing” to allow it to continue to outsource public housing to for-profit community housing providers.

Under the guise of “increasing” social housing, Labor is actually privatising public housing. When services are privatised, communities suffer: the aged and disability sector are evidence of this.

Public housing offers low cost and secure tenancies for some of the most vulnerable. If these community assets continue to be privatised, more people will become homeless.

Community housing providers decide who they want to house and they do not take vulnerable people with complex needs. They are also quick to issue eviction notices and take people to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

They are also not properly regulated and make up their own rent calculations. Some pay in excess of 45% of their income in so-called “social housing”.

The federal government’s inadequate first home buyer scheme is pitched at those who already have the means to purchase.

We can take a leaf of out of a successful campaign in Berlin where, last year, they organised a citizen-initiated poll to expropriate companies holding 3000 or more apartments.

Skyrocketing rents and the dismantling of low-income residents in a city in which more than 80% of people rent were motivating factors.

Socialist Alliance says housing is a human right. The state government could: buy dwellings left vacant for more than 12 months and convert to public housing; expand emergency accommodation services; force developers to allocate 20% of units to affordable housing; place an immediate freeze on rent rises for two years and ban “no grounds” evictions.

[Angela Carr is a community services worker, union delegate, convenor of Geelong Housing Action and a mother of three. She is running in the Victorian elections for Socialist Alliance in Geelong.]