Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Brownyn Pike spoke at a forum on housing policy and solutions in Maroondah, alongside Federal Housing Minister Michael Sukkar and Victorian Legislative Assembly Member for Ringwood Dustin Halse.
Addressing the North Ringwood Uniting Church community, Ms Pike said “an affordable, secure, and safe place to live should never be a luxury, it is the foundation for all people to live healthy and dignified lives as active participants in our community.
“In my years of experience I know, and we all know, that so many often quite expensive and complex interventions we offer to people who are in great need can fall down the minute they exit those programmes because they do not have a place to live.
“That notion of a foundation is really important. Safe and secure housing is a major factor in helping get a person’s life on track and address any issues they may experience.”
Ms Pike recognised the commitment of local congregations in running the Maroondah Shelter Project.
“I commend our local congregations for stepping up and leading the provision of services for people experiencing homelessness in this community. I also commend them for taking this initiative to engage in the public conversation about this important issue.”
Ms Pike spoke about poor income security, rental affordability, social housing stock and wrap-around support as interlinked factors that drive homelessness in our communities.
“Poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. Households on low income, who live week-to-week, are unable to absorb the financial repercussion that result from disruptive life events such as illness, injury, family violence, relationship breakdown, job loss or a death in the family.
“These can be the real tipping points for people.
“The current Jobseeker rate of $44 a day for a single person is simply not enough for people to live on and it’s certainly not enough for people to find long-term secure and affordable housing.
“Yet, the Federal Government’s Disaster Support Payments, while welcome for many people, leave out those on Jobseeker and Youth Allowance payments because they did not have formal work arrangements to lose the required eight or more hours of paid work to be eligible.”
Talking about rental affordability Ms Pike said that low affordability combined with low housing supply is creating critical situations in communities.
“Across the nation, less than 1% of rental properties were affordable for a single person on any Government income support payment during the rental snapshot in March. The Victorian Rental Report shows that in Maroondah, the proportion of affordable rental lettings in fact decreased.
“There are less houses in your community that people could even think about renting, even if they had additional resources.
On the issue of social housing stock, Ms Pike recognised the Victorian Government’s Big Housing Build project and Federal Government’s recent Safe Places initiative as good steps in the right direction.
“Uniting is excited to partner with both levels of government and have committed $20 million of our own funding to help build 500 new affordable housing projects around Victoria and Tasmania over the next five years.”
At the same time, Ms Pike also noted that the Federal Government spending on building new social housing has declined in the recent years.
“The proportion of funding towards National Housing and Homelessness Agreement has not been indexed for inflation and population growth and so in real terms declined significantly since 2013.”
“Increase in Rental Assistance funding, while necessary, only helps with the existing housing stock and doesn’t provide opportunity to increase supply of affordable housing.”
Alongside the provision of safe and affordable housing, Ms Pike noted the importance of providing integrated and wraparound support necessary for people to maintain their homes.
“When the underlying issues are not addressed, and people cycle back into homelessness.
“Uniting’s housing growth plans will support our wider service provision role in addressing vulnerability in the community. With our multiple service streams, we can provide wrap around support to those who need it.”
In concluding, Ms Pike urged Federal, State and Territory governments to “work together to do as much as they possibly can to make homelessness a thing of the past and not the reality of contemporary life in Maroondah, or anywhere else in a wealthy country like Australia.”
Find out more about Uniting housing and homelessness services.
PHOTO: Bronwyn Pike at the opening of Marrageil Baggarrook.