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Push for greater investment in social housing as stage 4 lockdown hits Melbourne

As Melbourne endures stage 4 restrictions, agencies who work with some of the country’s most vulnerable individuals have used this week as a springboard to lobby for more affordable housing options.

St Vincent de Paul Society National Council chief executive officer, Toby oConnor, has called on the Federal Government to establish a social housing fund of $10 billion to address the chronic shortage of safe, affordable housing in Australia, saying a National Housing Strategy was desperately needed to meet the national shortfall of more than 400,000 dwellings.

“Such a strategy will bring consistency, commitment and accountability to tackling housing stress and homelessness in Australia,” Mr oConnor said.

“In the face of unprecedented projected unemployment, all governments must work to urgently address chronic housing shortage, rental stress and homelessness which have been on the rise for the last two decades but will escalate as the impact of COVID-19 deepens.

“Such a move will stimulate the economy and provide homes for thousands of people, many of whom have lost or will lose their livelihood overnight.”

People need a home to stop the spread of COVID-19

Council to Homeless Persons chief executive officer, Jenny Smith, urged the community to take action and write to Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg for more social housing funding in the October Budget.

“In order to stay home and reduce the risk of community transmission [of COVID-19], you need to have a home in which to stay,” Ms Smith said.

“The significant increase in homelessness stemming from the pandemic has been in groups unable to access support, students and those with expiring work visas unable to return home.”

Ms Smith praised the Victorian Government’s announcement to extend temporary hotel accommodation for those without a home until April next year, as Melbourne goes into stage 4 lockdown.

In late July, the Victorian Government pledged $150 million to extend emergency hotel accommodation, allowing 2000 people sleeping rough to continue to be supported.

The government also committed to leasing more than 1,000 properties from the private rental market to provide housing for vulnerable people once they leave emergency accommodation.

But Ms Smith warned that homeless support was likely to spike with the winding back of welfare payments.

“The immediate priority is to make sure that no-one in temporary accommodation exits back into homelessness,” she said.

“The doubling of JobSeeker and introduction of JobKeeper have been vital in protecting many from homelessness to date,” she said. “With the reduction in those benefits in September, combined with the end of the moratorium on evictions, we will likely see a dramatic increase in demand for homelessness support.

“Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that people are supported to stay in their existing homes and those without a home are given the appropriate support to get into stable accommodation.

“Victoria currently has the lowest proportion of social housing out of all the states and territories. Generations of underinvestment in building new social housing means we have around 80,000 people languishing on waiting lists, sometimes for years.”

“We can end homelessness, but not without more homes”

Bevan Warner, chief executive officer of REA Group (publisher of charity partner, Launch Housing Australia, welcomed the additional funding from the Victorian Government saying it demonstrated that homelessness was “solvable”.

“This will be a life-saving measure because it means the 2000 people who were sleeping rough and are now in hotels and motels will have somewhere to ride out the pandemic at least until April, to try and stay safe,” Mr Warner said.

“They won’t have to wonder every day about what is going to happen to them, a state of anxiety which has created a ‘perfect storm’ of uncertainty and fear among this vulnerable group.

“We can end homelessness, but not without more homes and more support. This announcement provides both.

“We now need to persuade the Federal Government to take the expert economic advice and turbocharge the recovery with more social housing, so the homes get built to avoid future instances of homelessness.”

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