Increase in people living with housing stress

South West MLC Diane Evers is calling on the government to do more to address affordable housing in regional WA. Image supplied.

South West MLC Diane Evers is calling on the government to do more to address affordable housing in regional WA. Image supplied.

Many livelihoods in the region were shattered during the COVID-19 crisis seeing an increase in people seeking help to find affordable housing.

As people lost their jobs in the region the number of applicants seeking the government's JobSeeker payment increased by 153 per in Busselton and 133 per cent in Margaret River.

Advocacy group Just Home Margaret River had 18 new clients with 10 children between March 27, 2020 and June 9, 2020 seeking help to find housing.

Just Home chair Naomi Godden said it was triple their usual intake.

"Homelessness and housing stress are serious issues in the Augusta Margaret River community," she said.

"It is exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing, a shortage of social housing, and lack of services to support people experiencing housing difficulties.

"We recently completed our quarterly data reporting for March 2020, it showed a total of 101 clients came through the service since July 2017.

"Of those 38 people were rough sleeping (on the street, in a car, or in a tent) or couch surfing at the time of intake to our service."

"We have worked with 30 clients altogether in this period and had more than 20 inquiries that we could not respond to.

"As a proportion of the AMR Shire population of 14,500, our figures indicated that the incidence of homelessness and need for support in Margaret River is significant.

"Unfortunately, the funding allocated to Bunbury will not address the needs in our community, and we await with hope for further funding allocated to Margaret River and other regional communities to address the entrenched and growing issues of homelessness.

"We were overwhelmed with community requests for support from people experiencing financial stress, people who have lost their jobs and are now homeless, and women and children experiencing family and domestic violence.

"The pandemic has also intensified and entrenched poverty and safety issues for people who were already homeless in our community, making it even more difficult for them to access secure housing.

"We urgently need the WA Government to fund Just Home so that we can support our community through this difficult time."

South West MLC Diane Evers has described the McGowan Government's Social Housing Economic Recovery package as a necessary step for regional public housing and for an increase in jobs creation, but said the measures do not go far enough to address long regional wait lists for accommodation.

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Ms Evers said she welcomed the $80 million allocated to targeted maintenance programs for regional social housing properties, but that discussions with regional stakeholders in the public housing sector consolidated her belief that the government must do more.

In November 2019, Housing Minister Peter Tinley made comments that there would always be more demand for public housing than the supply side could deliver, but Ms Evers said the fact that only 4 per cent of housing in WA is public or social housing highlighted systemic failings.

Ms Evers said examples of housing stress in Augusta-Margaret River and issues with chronic under supply of accessible housing meant low income earners in the South West Region were suffering.

"Homelessness and housing stress in regional WA is a crisis, with the waiting list close to a decade in some places," she said.

"There are much-needed South West organisations such as Just Home Margaret River providing housing advocacy to vulnerable or disadvantaged members of the community, and they need more support.

"63 per cent of renters in Augusta-Margaret River alone cannot afford the median rent without suffering housing stress, with the area also suffering the ninth-highest level of demand in WA for public housing.

"The lack of affordable social housing is also resulting in people having to spend more income on rent, leading to less money being spent in their local communities and putting a dampener on job growth in the regions.

"I refuse to accept that a wealthy society can allow this demand for affordable public housing to go unfulfilled and I call on the McGowan and Federal Governments to do more.

"Lifting people out of housing stress and helping people into homes will pay great dividends for both communities and businesses during post-COVID recovery, as better conditions enable more people to enter the workforce and increase spending in their communities.

"The Greens have a plan for building 500,000 public and community homes across Australia under the 'A Home for All' plan.

"With regional WA suffering from among the longest waits for public housing, I believe the community would stand to benefit greatly from this plan."

A Department of Communities spokesperson said they led the South West Homelessness Response, which was a multi-agency response to homelessness that supports and accommodates people in the South West.

The spokesperson said in Busselton, outreach work was being led by the department in consultation with the City of Busselton, with the aim of engaging with the existing department's Local Communities Coordination Team to support individuals with their housing needs.

"In Margaret River, outreach work was being led by Just Home with support from the department's Local Coordination Team for individuals with more complex needs," the spokesperson said.

"The department has existing contractual arrangements with numerous community-based service providers across the South West for the provision of homeless support services.

"These agreements are entered into following thorough, transparent procurement processes and are usually funded over a number of years.

"The Lotterywest Crisis and Emergency Relief Fund has been set up to help not-for-profit community organisations meet costs related to increased demand for emergency or crisis relief services, including homeless support.

"The Department of Communities has also finalised the WA Housing Strategy 2020-2030, which is expected to be released later this year. Work has also commenced on a Regional and Remote Housing Implementation Plan.

"The plan will acknowledge each region's unique characteristics and market conditions, and identify initiatives to improve access to affordable housing for people on low to moderate incomes and those with specific housing needs."

This story Increase in people living with housing stress first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.