A private member’s bill, moved by Labor MP Josh Burns, recently called on the Australian government “to help build more affordable homes” in response to the growing homelessness crisis. A premise of the bill is that a lack of social housing is a major cause of homelessness and increasing the supply is a key element of solving the problem. The government’s response was that one solution is to encourage social housing tenants to find paid work, so they can move into private rental housing.
The problem with this argument is it overlooks the major barriers to entering the private rental market for low-income households. It also does not excuse the failure to invest adequately in building more social housing.
There is certainly a shortage of social housing. About 140,600 applicants were on the waiting list for public housing and 8,800 households were wait-listed for state-owned-and-managed Indigenous housing as at June 30 2018. Another 38,300 applicants were waiting for mainstream community housing as at June 30 2017 (the most recent publicly available data). Together, these tenure types comprise most of Australia’s social housing.
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