2019 Homelessness Week | Low income a barrier to housing in the South-West

It is estimated around 400 people living in the South West have nowhere to call home, and many people living on low incomes are struggling to find affordable housing options.

The Augusta Margaret River Shire's housing affordability strategy found more than a quarter of its residents earned less than $600 a week (2015).

In Busselton, 28 per cent of the population earned less than $500 a week, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016).

The median cost to rent a home in the region ranged from $300 for a two bedroom house in Busselton to $480 for a four bedroom house in Margaret River.

Just Home is a housing justice organisation based in Augusta Margaret River, which works with community members experiencing, or who are at risk of homelessness to access appropriate and affordable housing.

Just Home chairperson Naomi Godden said median rent in the Shire of Augusta Margaret River was the highest in the South-West and median income was some of the lowest.

"It is a highly unaffordable place to live," she said.

It is a highly unaffordable place to live.

Just Home chairperson Naomi Godden

"Given the high cost of private rentals in Margaret River a lot of locals on low incomes would be spending a significant proportion of their income on housing.

"We see the problem as the lack of low cost private rentals and a significant lack of social housing in Augusta and Margaret River."

Ms Godden said Just Home have a housing advocacy project where people experiencing homelessness or are at high-risk of homelessness can work with their housing advocacy officer to try and access housing.

"We have about 75 people on our client list who we have been working with since July 2017, it is a pretty enormous list," she said.

"Clearly we need diverse options of affordable housing, we need single bedroom units particularly for single, older males and females.

"We need two bedroom places for a single parent and one child and we need three and four bedroom houses as well.

"It is quite a variety that is required and certainly one of the challenges for social housing is that it needs to cover a diversity of housing, it is certainly not a one size fits all situation."

Ms Godden said if people had sufficient incomes through social security payments or low wage jobs, and rent was affordable, most of their clients would be able to rent a home immediately.

Busselton ranked one of the highest priced income ratios in regional WA, in the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre 2019 Housing Affordability Survey.

The survey found while property prices had come down in Busselton, Margaret River and Augusta, people were being challenged by falling incomes.

Lower income earners in Busselton paid beyond 40 per cent of their income towards rent.

City of Busselton planning and development services acting director Lee Reddell said the city was aware of this issue and, as only one example, pursued consultation with the Department of Communities since 2014-2015 regarding the positive and potentially cost-effective re-development of public housing stock in the city.

Ms Reddell said affordability and diversity in housing choice were recognised as important considerations in developing the region.

"The city actively seeks to include these considerations in future planning for the city and offers on-going guidance and assistance to the development industry in achieving these goals."

"Comparing median local household incomes to median house prices, most regional areas were now more affordable than Perth, with the exception of Busselton."

Department of Community general policy and service design acting assistant director Astrid Kalders

Department of Community general policy and service design acting assistant director Astrid Kalders said the Housing Industry Forecasting Group report 2018-19 found housing affordability in WA remained challenging, despite the softening in prices over the past few years.

"Western Australians on low incomes remain locked out of home ownership unless in receipt of external help, such as parental loans," she said.

"Comparing median local household incomes to median house prices, most regional areas were now more affordable than Perth, with the exception of Busselton.

"The Affordable Housing Action Plan 2017-18 to 2019-20 reflects the government's commitment to ensuring Western Australians have access to housing that is affordable to them."

Ms Kalders said some of the deliverables under the plan included, but were not limited to, crisis accommodation in Collie and urban renewal projects in Bunbury and Albany.

She said there were also major land and housing developments in Dalyellup, Albany and Geraldton.

"The Department of Communities is developing the next 10 Year Housing Strategy (the strategy) for WA 2020-2030," she said.

"The strategy will guide ways to improve the range of suitable and affordable housing opportunities across the state.

"Input from the community and private sectors will be vital to the success of the strategy, including representation from the regions."

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the City of Busselton was the largest local government authority outside Perth and yet there was a lack of vital support services for the community.

She said the need for crisis accommodation and response here in Busselton was identified soon after the opening of the Youth Activity Centre on the Busselton foreshore in 2018.

"An increasing amount of youth presenting in need of emergency support," she said.

"It is time for this government to stop ignoring the Busselton and Dunsborough communities and provide support services to assist with the growing issue of crisis response."

Home, Sweet Home is this theme for year's Homelessness Week which aims to get people living off the streets and into a home. It costs around $4,500 to get a person living off the streets in WA and into a rental home.