WHY IS HOMELESSNESS AN IMPORTANT ISSUE?

Written By: L. McCracken & H. Coull

ACP Member & Candidate Member

The inability to find stable housing reduces a homeless person’s living conditions to an absolute minimum. The inhumane treatment of the most disadvantaged people of society should be something that a government concerns itself with and as the right to adequate housing, which is violated by the existence of homelessness, continues domestically and abroad[1]. 

The effects of homelessness aren’t just the inability to access housing, there are also many other internationally recognised human rights that are impacted such as the right to health, privacy, security, education and work. Therefore, any society should aim to eliminate homelessness. However, the vast majority of developed nations have not been able to achieve this task, with the notable exception going to Finland which is on track to eliminate homelessness in the major cities[2]. There are two main reasons why Finland was able to complete this historic achievement: a cheap and accessible housing market for people of low income[3] and more importantly, a large amount of social welfare which allowed the homeless to access houses.

This occurs when societies place less emphasis on profits and more importance on the wellbeing of citizens. In other words, most other western nations believe that there is no economically viable solution to ending homelessness. What then is the current approach of Australia and its political parties to this problem?

Housing tenure in Australia (per cent), by tenure type, 1994–95 to 2015–16

The effects of homelessness aren’t just the inability to access housing, there are also many other internationally recognised human rights that are impacted such as the right to health, privacy, security, education and work. Therefore, any society should aim to eliminate homelessness.”

Home ownership distribution in OECD countries and European Union member states (per cent), 2014 or most recent year   Year of collection and method of collection varies across countries and may affect comparisons. Data for Australia are sourced from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey 2014.

Home ownership distribution in OECD countries and European Union member states (per cent), 2014 or most recent year

Year of collection and method of collection varies across countries and may affect comparisons. Data for Australia are sourced from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey 2014.

A RADICAL CHANGE TO “PUBLIC HOUSING”

Currently all public housing in Australia is owned by state governments, regardless of whether they are high-rise apartments or townhouse estates. So what are the proposed changes to this model?

The proposed changes mean that public housing will become social housing and this involves the privatisation of public housing, with a requirement that the new privately owned and rented houses are "affordable". This means that landlords are allowed to charge homeless people rent at 80% of the market value [4]. Not only will social housing cost a lot more than public housing, but with smaller houses replacing the current public housing, large families won't have anywhere to go [4]. Overall this has led to only 20% of the public housing tenants being able to move back into their new social housing in the suburb of Kensington and the same figure is predicted for Carlton in Victoria [4]. There are further plans to turn 10 other locations[5] into social housing without building any public housing to accommodate for the displaced families that can't afford the new social housing.

“20% of the public housing tenants being able to move back into their new social housing in the suburb of Kensington and the same figure is predicted for Carlton in Victoria”

WHY “AFFORDABLE HOUSING” DOESN'T HELP THE HOMELESS

Both major parties have placed an emphasis on giving concessions to first home buyers and those wishing to invest into newly built houses in an effort to make houses more affordable for owners[6]. However appealing it sounds, the reality is that the vast majority of new concessions will be not be given to people wanting to live in their own house, but will instead be given to landlords and investors. These are people who will wish to keep housing prices high so they can maintain their business and so it is unlikely that house prices will drop.

These policies would make one assume that housing would be made more affordable and that renters would be in a position to buy houses at affordable market prices. On the contrary, renting is a burden carried by those who cannot afford to buy a house. Increasing “affordability” in a parasitic market, will do nothing for the people who are living paycheck to paycheck, on the verge of homelessness. With job security at an all-time low [7], and public housing being relegated to the history books, it is a stressful time to be a renter and unfortunately this is increasingly becoming the fate of future generations.

Social share, as social housing dwellings per 100 households in Australia, 2007–08 to 2016–17

Social share, as social housing dwellings per 100 households in Australia, 2007–08 to 2016–17

Renting is a burden carried by those who cannot afford to buy a house. Increasing “affordability” in a parasitic market, will do nothing for the people who are living paycheck to paycheck, on the verge of homelessness”

 

Median price of established house transfers, by capital city, March 2002 to December 2017

SO WHY IS RENTING SO EXPENSIVE?

Housing is something that everyone needs and cannot do without. It is therefore in any kind hearted person's interest to help others have housing. If we also assume that all landlords also own their own homes, then an easy solution is for all landlords to lower the rent of the extra houses they don't use. The house will always remain as an asset of the landlord, so if the renters pay for the upkeep of the house then this could be considered a fair amount. However that's not how capitalism works. Under capitalism housing is not sacred; the ability to make profit by forcing people to pay for more than the upkeep of the house is, even if it eventually makes those people homeless.

“Under capitalism housing is not sacred; the ability to make profit by forcing people to pay for more than the upkeep of the house is, even if it eventually makes those people homeless”

However, the underlying problem that renters have to pay more for housing than what it costs to maintain does not paint the full picture; the real problem is the sheer amount that landlords can charge because everyone needs housing. In 2018 the median rent price was $427 per week [8], and the median income for households is $73,000 after tax [9]. Although spending one third of your income on rent appears livable, it should be noted that median households earn much more than the poor people forced to rent, of which the majority of renting households earn around $40,000 annually [9].

Home ownership (aggregate) rates, by selected age groups, Census years 1971 to 2016

“The fact that landlords can charge renters for more than the house costs, is also enshrined in the fact that employers can pay employees for less than they produce”

Social housing dwellings (per 100 occupied private dwellings)

For interavtive map visit: https://aihw.maps.arcgis.com/apps/StorytellingSwipe/index.html?appid=f010b188b1aa4be7852061ccb2052028&embed#

The percentage of households renting from a landlord has increased over the years of 1995-2015 from 19% to 25.3% [10], partly due to a decrease in public housing numbers[10]. While housing remains an avenue for the richest people to continue to exploit the poorest people under the guise of "providing" a human right, the situation will continue to worsen. The reality that an ever increasing number of Australians have to rent is not a contradiction within capitalism, it is its purest expression. The fact that landlords can charge renters for more than the house costs, is also enshrined in the fact that employers can pay employees for less than they produce. This is the reality of capitalism in which the capitalist gets rich from other people's labour. While the average Australian is dependent on this group of owners for their own existence, whether they are their landlords or their bosses, the situation will only continue to worsen.

5/07/19