National housing crisis confirmed by new data

By Melissa Coade

January 27, 2022

woman sitting on floor with bills in front of her
More Australians are being ‘pushed to the brink of poverty’. (SB Arts Media/Adobe)

More Australians are being ‘pushed to the brink of poverty’, housing advocates have warned, pointing to the latest Report on Government Services (ROGS), which they say makes the case for higher rent-assistance payments.

Advocacy group Everybody’s Home, which campaigns to ensure all people have safe accommodation in Australia, noted that the latest ROGS data showed older people faced increased pressure from rent price increases. 

New ROGS data published by the Productivity Commission shows that 45.7% of commonwealth rent assistance (CRA) recipients experience housing stress. This means renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing. For people aged over 75 in this group, one-third reported housing stress.

This year, the number of welfare recipients who reported housing stress increased by more than five percentage points since 2019 (40.5%). In 2020, when the government’s COVID supplement payment temporarily boosted income security, reported rates of housing stress dropped to 29.4%.

Everybody’s Home spokesperson Kate Colvin said that national population growth was also not being accounted for when it came to building social housing stock.

“It’s simply astounding that even after receiving rent assistance, almost half of households are still in housing stress,” Colvin said. 

“The supply of affordable homes is rapidly vanishing for people on low and modest incomes as rents skyrocket. 

“When federal politicians talk about a supply problem they need to get their priorities straight, we need more social and affordable housing to give people on modest incomes real choice,” she said. 

Tellingly, without CRA payments the Productivity Commission estimates that 72.5% of low-income households in Australia would have experienced rental stress in June 2021.

This financial year, governments spent $4.5 billion on social housing services, and specialist homelessness services accounted for $1.2 billion.

Government expenditure for these services overall was $5.7 billion, with the federal government’s share of this expenditure being $1.7 billion.

Australian government expenditure on CRA — the largest government private rental assistance program — was $5.3 billion in 2020‑21.

Colvin said that the CRA needed serious adjustment to reflect the reality of surging rents in Australia.

“The best way to address this is to lift the historically low rates of social housing investment. We need at least 25,000 new social housing units built per year just to begin closing the widening housing gap,” she said. 

According to ROGS, the drivers of housing instability in Australia include market factors affecting housing affordability, and individual factors such as adverse personal, social and economic circumstances.

In 2020-21, people’s reasons for connecting with specialist homelessness services included mental health, medical issues or problematic substance use (25.7 %), as well as interpersonal and relationship issues (53.8%) — of whom 73.3% identified domestic and family violence as the main reason.

Factors that increase the risk of homelessness and/or need for social housing can include physical and mental health issues, disability, alcohol and other drug misuses, unemployment, relationship breakdown and family or domestic violence,” the report said.

Housing instability and homelessness can, in turn, increase vulnerability to adverse social and economic circumstances through, for example, poorer outcomes in education, employment and health, and increased risk of involvement with the justice system.


NSW rent relief extended for another month

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