New report shows progress made on homelessness in response to COVID-19 slipping away

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the University of Nee South Wales released the following statement (11 February 2021) about the impact of the Pandemic last year and now, on those who find themselves homeless. They say that pulling away support and not extending the rent moratorium will result in more people sleeping rough.

A new report shows the gains made on reducing homelessness during the pandemic last year are slipping away. It shows less than a third of those assisted with temporary hotel accommodation during the crisis were later transitioned into longer-term affordable housing, mainly due to a shortage of social housing available. At the same time, tens of thousands of people renting across the country now owe mounting rental debts, after having their payments deferred (but not reduced) while eviction moratoriums were in place.

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The report – COVID-19 Rental Housing and Homelessness Impacts: an initial analysis – is part of the UNSW Sydney and Australian Council of Social Service’s Poverty and Inequality research partnership.

Australian Council of Social Service CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said:

“During the pandemic, governments did the right thing by increasing income support payments, putting in place eviction moratoriums and providing emergency housing to prevent a sudden surge in homelessness.

“Governments also encouraged landlords to consider rent variations for tenants who had lost income due to COVID-19, but many were unwilling, or agreed only rent deferral rather than rent reduction.

“Now, with emergency tenancy protection and income support being cut back, tens of thousands of people will be facing huge deferred rental debts – putting us at great risk of a worsening homelessness crisis.

Report author, UNSW Sydney Professor Hal Pawson, said:

“Even with the help of increased income support payments and eviction moratoriums last year, our report shows people renting were much harder hit by the pandemic than homeowners. Nationally, renters’ housing costs dropped by only 0.5 percent on average; mortgage holders, by contrast, typically saw a 5 percent decline in their housing costs.

“At least a quarter of all private renters lost income during the pandemic, but possibly as few as 8 percent got a rent variation from their landlord.

“At least 30 percent of rent variations merely deferred the rent, rather than reduced it. Our report shows there could be at least 75,000 tenants with mounting deferred rent debts across the country.”

James Toomey CEO of Mission Australia, which partnered on the report, said:

“With these huge rental debts mounting and eviction moratoriums ending, many people are deeply worried they will lose their homes and be pushed into homelessness. At the same time, unemployment is above historic norms, and the Federal Government has not ruled out cutting the JobSeeker payment back to the brutal old Newstart rate. Income support payments must be set at an adequate rate, and there remains an urgent need for investment in new social and affordable homes if we are to have any hope of addressing rental stress and ending homelessness in Australia.”

Adrian Pisarski, CEO of National Shelter, which also partnered on the report, said:

“State governments acted quickly and on an extraordinary scale to provide emergency accommodation for people who were homeless early in the pandemic, but less than a third of those assisted were later transitioned into longer-term affordable housing.

“People are being left with nowhere to go but a car, someone’s couch or the street. After we saw rough sleeping almost eliminated in several of Australia’s major cities in mid-2020, numbers are once again on the rise. The struggle that state governments have faced in dealing with this situation once again exposes our intensifying shortage of social and affordable housing”

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie concluded:

“Governments, particularly the Federal Government, have the power to prevent this worsening homelessness crisis – to build on their good work during the pandemic and finally get us on track to end homelessness in Australia.

“At the Federal level, the Government can put in place a permanent and adequate level of income support and bolster state social housing construction. A new push to invest in social housing can begin to make good a decade of neglect. It can provide long-term affordable living solutions so that people have a base from which to rebuild their lives, at the same time generating tens of thousands of jobs, supporting our economic recovery from the pandemic.”  

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