Crisis cry for social housing

Basil Zempilas’ election as Perth Lord Mayor, and yesterday’s WA rental crisis announcement have sparked a conversation about homelessness in Perth.

About 600 people sleep rough and at least 9000 people experience homelessness in Perth every night.

Homelessness is not only people living on the street. It can include women and children escaping from domestic violence, couch surfing and those living out of their cars.

Homelessness in WA statistics. Infographic: Chloe Clare

A ‘rental crisis warning’ released yesterday from the Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA) concludes there is a high possibility there may be no more property availability by early 2021.

The vacancy rate for WA has dropped to 0.96 per cent, making it the lowest rate since March 2007.

WA Alliance to End Homelessness executive officer John Berger says more funding needs to go to more affordable houses.

“14 000 people on the social housing waitlist, [even when they] are on priority listing, often wait between 6-12 months or longer to get a housing allocation,” he says.

“We need a strong commitment to more affordable housing, whether it’s delivered by the government or private sector.”

Uniting WA chief executive officer Amanda Hunt says Uniting WA has consistently called for the state and federal governments to invest in affordable and social housing.

“In a recent peer-reviewed study, it was estimated that we need an additional 2,500 social housing properties each year for the next two decades to meet demand. That’s 86,500 new homes,” she says.

Although the state government says it has not reduced social housing over the last decade, Mr Berger says it is still inadequate.

“[The state Labor Government] probably argues they’ve maintained social housing, but [although] the population has grown significantly over the last few decades, social housing hasn’t kept [up] with that,” he says.

Brownlie Towers social housing was demolished in Bentley WA last year. Photo: Chloe Clare

With coronavirus supplements and JobKeeper payments coming to an end next year, Mr Berger is concerned more people will not be able to afford their rent.

“When Commonwealth support starts to dry up at the end of the year or early next year, [considering] the lack of affordable houses, we will potentially have a new wave of homelessness.”

Ms Hunt says addressing homelessness requires a multi-faceted and co-ordinated societal approach.

“We need community [understanding and] strong leadership to drive the systemic change required to end this ongoing crisis,” she says.

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