Building social housing, addressing financial hardship would help stop spread of coronavirus

Thursday 2 July

A government commitment to build more social housing would create a huge pipeline of work for builders, but more than that – it would provide housing for vulnerable Victorians and help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

A sudden outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne has created widespread concern across the country about the possibility of a ‘second wave’ of the virus. Ten of the city’s postcodes went into lockdown for a month from midnight on Wednesday 1 July.

University of Melbourne academics Professor Rebecca Bentley and Erika Martino write in The Conversation that the suburbs with the worst coronavirus outbreaks over the last week have something in common – they also have some of the highest rates of financial hardship in the city.

“People in overcrowded or unaffordable or insecure housing may have less control over their immediate environment and less capacity to isolate themselves than other community members”

– Professor Rebecca Bentley and Erika Martino, University of Melbourne.

The overlap of areas with high risk for coronavirus, financial hardship and homelessness include suburbs such as Fawkner, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Broadmeadows and Maidstone.

It’s hard to stay at home if you don’t have one

Anglicare Victoria Chief Executive Paul McDonald said it is hard to socially isolate if you don’t have a home – or if you live somewhere that is overcrowded or inadequate.

“Coronavirus has been able to show us that people’s ability to afford a safe and secure home has close links to their health and wellbeing. Our 2020 Rental Affordability Snapshot found that it is almost impossible to afford a decent place to live for those on minimum wage or government income support, even when taking into account the temporary increase to welfare payments during the height of the pandemic. The alternatives are overcrowded places like rooming houses or sharing a place with other families – the kind of conditions that make the spread of COVID-19 more likely,” he said.

“Right now the need for emergency and low cost accommodation far outstrips what is available. Ultimately we know how to solve this problem, but we have to get the wheels in motion. As well as building more social housing for those in need, it means increasing our efforts to address the root causes that lead to housing stress and homelessness. This means more resources to address mental health, family violence, and drug and alcohol addiction.”

The Andrews Government has recently supported a series of staffed 24-hour facilities in Melbourne to provide health care for homeless people. Anglicare Victoria made one of our properties available for this important initiative.

More action needed

In the short term, additional payments and initiatives by the state and federal governments have definitely helped those hit hard by the virus. The state government has put many homeless people up in hotels during the pandemic.

However, the Federal Government it yet to provide assurance of how long the temporary boost to the JobSeeker payment (formally Newstart) will last, highlighting the need for strategic action on social issues and housing in the medium and long term.

Further reading

• Read more about Victoria’s housing affordability crisis in Anglicare’s 2020 Rental Affordability Snapshot, which outlines the challenges facing people on the minimum wage or income support.

• Anglicare Victoria has detailed our recommendations to address mental health for vulnerable young people and families in our submission to the Victorian Royal Commission on Mental Health. And we have embraced new ways of working to adapt our services for an unprecedented operating environment.

• If you are concerned about the social housing situation in Victoria, the Everybody’s Home campaign calls on the Victorian Government to make more affordable and social housing available for those who need it most.

• The full list of postcodes which have had further restrictions introduced are included in this statement from the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

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