Homelessness figures in Australia are a ‘disgrace’

We need to start thinking of housing as a basic human right rather than an investment opportunity, says a UNSW Professor.

A UNSW professor is urging the victor of Saturday’s NSW election to address the state’s homelessness and housing affordability crisis.   

“The homelessness figures in Australia are a disgrace. On any given night, one in 200 people in Australia are homeless,” the Professor of Social Policy and CEO of the Centre for Social Impact (CSI), Kristy Muir said.

“And for young people aged 19-24, that figure rises to one in 100. In a wealthy country such as ours, it’s just not good enough.

“Between the last two census periods in Australia, we saw a 14% increase in homelessness, whereas the population grew by just 8.8%. In NSW homelessness increased by 37%. The problem is getting worse.”

1 in 200 are homeless infographic
Homelessness grew by 14% between the last two censuses (2011‐2016), to over 116,000 people.

At the heart of the problem is the affordability of housing, rather than supply.

Prof Muir suggested a number of key levers, including an affordability scheme to put housing within reach for the nation’s lower income earners.

“We don’t have a housing crisis, we have an affordable housing crisis. Affordability is the biggest issue around housing and one of the biggest drivers for homelessness,” Prof Muir said.

“It’s a serious problem that we have no national housing affordability scheme at the moment - there's no one filling the gap between what people can afford and what the market is actually costing them.”

Prof Muir said housing is a basic human right.

“Housing has been seen recently as a means to generate wealth as opposed to a place to be safe, stable, secure, and be in a position to contribute to family, society and to the economy,” she said. 

“We need a cultural shift to see housing as a human right.”

Low-income rental housing and affordable housing should be a priority for state and federal governments, according to the CEO.

“Affordable housing should be funded by government money, but we also need to add other models, such as social impact investment,” Prof Muir said.

“Private capital, with some government guarantee or offset, could create more affordable houses, yet still provide a return on investment.”

A recent report released as part of the Amplify Social Impact initiative at the CSI, analysed the critical issues of homelessness and housing affordability in Australia.

Co-authored by Prof Muir, the report illustrated that housing needs to be safe, secure, affordable, appropriate and accessible to everyone.

Nationally, these needs are falling behind with government, other organisations and the market struggling to provide sufficient social housing affordable rental properties and crisis accommodation, according to the report.

In addition, Prof Muir said there needs to be more collaboration across services, departments and sectors to ensure no one slips through the cracks and services and supports are not siloed.