YWCA Australia welcomes Federal Government’s housing package as a strong foundation for addressing Australia’s gendered housing crisis

Under the clouds of inflation, both women and Australia’s rental and housing crisis were front and centre in the federal government’s budget.

The new National Housing Accord, with the overarching ambition to build one million well-located homes this decade, has the potential to be a turning point for housing affordability, by ensuring all the major players are collaborating and delivering the necessary solutions.

With increasing housing supply in focus, it was positive to see prior commitments to delivering additional social and affordable housing for women, including those escaping family and domestic violence, were honoured.

The budget also includes a landmark investment in early childhood education and the biggest changes to the Commonwealth’s paid parental leave program since the scheme’s inception in 2011.

Quotes attributable to YWCA Australia CEO Michelle Phillips:

“YWCA Australia welcomes the budget’s acknowledgement of the gendered nature of our housing crisis, that women are disproportionally affected as they are more likely to have a lower income and be driven from their homes by violence.

“YWCA Australia is optimistic the new National Housing Accord will be a turning point. Government, the construction sector, and Community Housing Providers working in partnership will be critical to addressing the housing crisis facing Australia, and YWCA Australia stands ready to support.

“We look forward to the larger plan to build 1 million well located homes this decade prioritising affordable housing for women on low incomes.

“The federal government’s commitment to build 40,000 social and affordable homes will help ease housing supply pressures and could be life-changing for women and women-led families.

“The commitment to a National Housing and Homelessness Plan can be a gamechanger, if women with lived experience of housing insecurity and homelessness inform its design and action plan.

“We welcome the commitments to funding the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, and the dedicated action plan for First Nations Women and Children. However, we expect to see further investment in women’s safety in the years ahead.

“We remain concerned about the cost-of-living pressures facing women on low incomes, many of whom are already in housing stress. Inflation, rising unemployment and the skyrocketing cost of power will only add to their stress. We would welcome investment in further relief and support for these women.”

YWCA Australia welcomes summit solutions to combat homelessness in Queensland

The Queensland Housing Summit today addressed the need for an urgent fix to combat the increasing housing crisis across the Sunshine State.

Critical issues to be remedied covered unlocking land and housing, fast-tracking social housing development, housing equity and collaboration around housing needs by the government and private sector.

YWCA CEO Michelle Phillips, who attended the summit, said the funding and innovative solutions proposed were on track and were a great first step in resolving what will be a long-term collaborative process to create housing for those facing homelessness – particularly women and their families.

“The summit presented some progressive solutions today that when implemented will positively impact the current housing crisis. It was encouraging to hear that the QLD State Government would release an additional $1 Billion in funding, doubling their current investment, to create a sustainable source of funding to build around 13,000 new affordable homes in Queensland – 5,600 by June 2027.

“This will be a game changer for many women experiencing homelessness, women and children who are trapped in unsafe domestic violence situations and older, displaced Australian women.

“By stretching the funding dollar and by working alongside government and sector partners, YWCA Australia welcomes the opportunity to continue to play a pivotal role in ending homelessness for women.

“There’s a lot that needs to happen, new solutions to be explored. It won’t be a quick fix, but it does map a hopeful road forward for women and their families who have nowhere to live,” she said.

Rental Stress and Housing Insecurity

You don’t need to be an economist to know the cost of living – especially the cost of housing – has skyrocketed in the last few years. Many Australians, especially young Australians, don’t just know about this increase; it’s having a serious impact on their lives.

Recent data from CoreLogic shows rents are up 9.1% across capital cities and 10.8% in regional areas compared with 12 months ago. This is pushing more and more Australians into rental stress and housing insecurity – especially young people.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from 2019/2020 reveals just how bad things are for young people. Renters aged 15-24, 22.3% were spending 30-50% of their income on their rent – the largest of any age group. 11.5% of 15–24-year-olds were spending more than 50% of their income on their rent!

This is particularly alarming when you consider the ABS defines ‘rental stress’ as housing that costs more than 30% of the gross household income. It’s no wonder young people make up just over one-fifth of all homeless people in Australia.

With interest rates rising and inflation yet to peak, it will only get worse. 74% of all responders to our Instagram Poll were worried about their rent going up.

“If our rent was to go up, I’d have to move.”

“I can’t afford it”

“I would have to work extra hours”

“I would have to cut back elsewhere – food, power, etc”

How do we fix this rental crisis? It’s not by calling on young people to ditch the avo toast or avoid restaurants, and it shouldn’t require people to miss out on essentials like food or medicine.

We need to build more social and affordable housing. Just as we invest in schools and hospitals we need to invest in stable, safe and affordable housing – shelter is a basic requirement for people’s wellbeing, especially young people.

We also need to look at how we make renting fairer. How much and how often your rent can be hiked differs widely across our states and territories as do the protections renters have.

To end what feels like a permanent housing crisis we need a National Housing Strategy, so we have a plan that all levels of government are committed to. This plan must include a National Homelessness Strategy that addresses the gendered and intersectional drivers of homelessness. This plan needs to be informed by the voices of young people with lived experience of rental stress, housing insecurity and homelessness so the solutions reflect their unique needs.

YWCA is committed to supporting young women and gender diverse people with lived experience to have a say on what’s prioritised in a National Homelessness and Housing Plan.

Violence or poverty? Women shouldn’t have to choose

One of the common (and frankly, extremely ignorant) remarks made when talking about domestic violence in Australia is the question – why don’t they just leave?”

A report from researcher Anne Summers released last week reveals exactly why – that many women escaping a violent relationship are facing the impossible decision between violence and poverty. The report looks at never-before-seen data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2016 Personal Safety Study and focuses on the experiences of violence of single mothers, with shocking results.

60 per cent of single mothers had experienced violence in a previous relationship. 75 per cent of these women said their former partner’s assaults, threats, controlling or emotionally harmful behaviour were the main reason the relationship ended. They left because of the violence. But what support awaited them?

Very little. 50 per cent of these single mothers say that income support payments were their primary source of income. Since 2016, wages have stagnated and the cost of living has skyrocketed, yet income support payments have stayed the same. For survivors who rely on these payments how far they can stretch to cover the costs of leaving – bond, rent, furniture, counselling – has actually decreased in real terms. Coupled with the rising cost of housing, where less than 1.6% of private rentals in Australia are affordable for minimum wage earners and basically zero are affordable for people living on income support payments, too many survivors and their families are being robbed of a future free from violence. 

The cost of starting again keeps many women in violent relationships. Of the estimated 275,000 women who experienced domestic and family violence at the hands of their current partner, 30 per cent left but later returned. For 12,000 of these women, they returned simply because they had nowhere else to go.

And of the 70 per cent of women who stayed after experiencing domestic violence, 22,600 said the lack of money and financial support was the main reason they couldn’t leave.

“Why doesn’t she just leave?” they ask. Because she can’t afford to.

More support is needed to help women rebuild their lives once they’ve left a violent relationship – especially when it comes to affordable housing.

Finette, Coordinator of YWCA Australia’s Domestic Violence programs in Southern New South Wales, says these horrific statistics mirror what her team sees each and every day.

YWCA operates three domestic violence programs in Southern NSW, with two specifically supporting women who have experienced domestic violence and have small children.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about domestic and family violence in Australia is that once women are out of the relationship, everything is fine. We know that this simply isn’t true. Leaving isn’t easy, especially with young children.”

She says the current rental crisis – which drove rents up as much as 38% per cent in some suburbs in her region – is the most significant factor preventing women leaving an abusive relationship.

The Summers report emphasises the need for a policy overhaul when it comes to how we support women leaving violent relationships. If we want women and their families to live a life free from violence, we must increase the supply of social and affordable housing, increase income support payments (including the Single Parent Payment and rent assistance) and increase funding for holistic support, that includes case management and housing, like what is offered by YWCA.

One million vacant properties – a homelessness solution?

Early insights from the 2021 Census data have been released this week, with some shocking results. Over one million dwellings – like holiday homes and investment properties – were unoccupied on Census Night. As we face a housing affordability crisis, are these empty dwellings the answer?

YWCA Australia thinks they’re part of the equation. In 2018, YWCA in partnership with Housing for All Australians and with pro-bono support and corporate donations, repurposed a vacant aged care facility to establish Lakehouse, transitional accommodation for older women in Melbourne who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

At a time when rental vacancy rates are 2.2% in Melbourne, and even lower in other parts of the country, Lakehouse provides a welcome reprieve to many women facing or at risk of homelessness. It is home to nearly 40 women at a time, and since it opened its doors, it has provided 106 women with a safe, secure place to rebuild their lives.

“Lakehouse makes a huge difference to women’s lives by giving them an opportunity to settle, regroup and be supported to secure long-term affordable accommodation.”

Charlotte Dillon, General Manger Housing at YWCA.

Women over 50 are the fastest-growing group of people experiencing housing instability in Australia – often as a result of pay inequity, little to no superannuation or savings, divorce, domestic and family violence and time taken as unpaid carers. With rental property prices soaring, more and more women of all ages are finding themselves reaching out to specialist homelessness services, like YWCA.

Rama turned to YWCA after leaving an abusive marriage, and at Lakehouse, she found the opportunity to rebuild a happier life for herself.

“I got this house last year. I have peace here. This is a home for me and I am very happy. These women are my family. I love to cook for them and to spend time with them.”

Having empty buildings while people are experiencing homelessness does not make sense. While the long-term solution to the housing affordability crisis is building more social and public housing, we know this takes time.

As a short-term solution, vacant dwellings can be repurposed into transitional housing which can be a space where women like Rama can find stability and access the support they need to break the cycle of homelessness.

Super misstep: Proposed policy could jack up housing prices and slash women’s retirement incomes

This week, the Morrison government announced a new and controversial policy, which allows first home buyers to withdraw up to $50,000 from their superannuation to get into the property market.

Morrison told voters they should have the right to use their super funds to buy their first homes and made the policy the centrepiece of a campaign speech that held out the promise of a “better future” if Australians backed him at the election.

YWCA Australia has serious concerns that this policy is negatively geared in relation to women.

The facts – in Australia women retire with 22-35 per cent less super than their male counterparts. This is a result of the gender pay gap, as well as breaks in work because of caring duties. As we begin to see the effects of the COVID-19 Early Release policy on Australian’s super balances, which allowed the withdrawal of up to $20,000 we are expecting to see the gap widen, especially for young women and women on low incomes who may never recover the retirement savings and the interest they would have earned.

Importantly, Australian women live on average 4 years longer than men, and with their lower super balances, they run out of super much earlier.

As a national not-for-profit focusing on young women’s leadership and housing, YWCA recognises that stable housing for women is critical to achieving gender equity. We work to shine a light on the impact of adverse housing and super policies on women, and on the critical need to address Australia’s housing affordability crisis.

Quotes attributable to Charlotte Dillon, General Manager Community Housing at YWCA Australia:

“This new policy further indicates the Morrison Government’s inadequate understanding of the drivers of gender inequity and housing insecurity. This policy will have serious impacts on women’s superannuation earnings – and stability at a later stage in life, increasing their risk of housing insecurity and making it more difficult for women of all ages to leave situations of domestic violence.

“In the short-term this policy could have serious implications for the skyrocketing cost of housing and further exacerbate the affordability crisis that has pushed far too many women into housing stress.

“34% of single Australian women over 60 live in income poverty (compared to 27% of men). This policy will only serve to increase this disparity.”

“If we want to give women stability in their retirement, we need policies that will address the current housing affordability crisis, not just for homeowners but also renters. This includes building more social housing and developing a National Housing Plan with a Homelessness Strategy that addresses the gendered drivers of women’s housing insecurity across their lifetime.”

Australia’s oldest women-only rooming house celebrates 49 years of operation

Owned and managed by YWCA, Richmond House was first opened in 1973 and is still the largest women-only rooming house in Australia. Completed in 2010, it underwent renovations to give the building a facelift, refresh the rooms and future-proof its design to fit in with the trendy Richmond area.  

Richmond House offers 69 single bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and shared kitchens, lounge and laundry facilities and outdoor community spaces in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. It’s home to low-income workers, older and disabled women, and women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 45 per cent of our residents have experienced domestic and family violence.  

“I’ve lived at Richmond House for around 20 years now; I feel like I own the place. It gives me the security and the freedom I need. I really like the company and the friendships I’ve made. It’s home.”  

Resident at Richmond House 

YWCA’s newest housing development opens in Bendigo

We are excited to share our most recent development project, Bendigo Affordable Housing.

It was completed in early June 2021 and has already provided 6 women and their families with a home. The five three-bedroom townhouses were architecturally designed by DKO Architecture and built by renowned builder GJ Gardner Homes. The properties were offered to women at below-market rates to give women and their families, including those who have experienced family and domestic violence, an opportunity to secure a safe affordable home.  

According to the latest rental report from the Department of Health and Human Services, rents in regional Victoria have increased by 9.3 per cent in the last twelve months, putting women and their families in the Greater Bendigo Region under increased stress. In an area with a competitive property market, rising rents are making it difficult for women on low incomes to make ends meet or find suitable housing, and we are so pleased our development has a small impact on relieving this pressure.   

One of the development’s residents, Gretel, struggled to find a rental property in Bendigo.   

“I’d applied for a number of places and kept getting turned down. As a young woman and casual worker, it was hard to find somewhere within my budget that would take me. If I hadn’t gotten this place I’d probably be relying on family for a couch or spare room,” she said. 

An update on YWCA governance

Following expert independent advice, YWCA is changing our corporate governance structure.  

To ensure greater synergy and better communication across all YWCA legal entities, we have decided to move to a common board of directors across YWCA Australia, YWCA National Housing, and YWCA Housing. This change is effective as of 1 June 2020. There is no expected impact to members, staff, volunteers or the many community programs and services we run across Australia.  

Kirsty Rourke and Rebecca Thomas, who are currently directors of YWCA National Housing and YWCA Housing will be joining the YWCA Australia board. They bring with them valuable housing and commercial knowledge to complement the skills and knowledge already on our board. Helen Conway, who is currently the Chair of the boards of both YWCA National Housing and YWCA Housing and will commence as President of the YWCA Australia Board on 1 July has been appointed as well.  

We farewell Anna Draffin, Yien Hong, Sarah Scruby and Tracy Thelander from our housing boards. Their contributions to the growth of YWCA housing operations and increased public visibility of the need for more affordable housing through the recent release of our research report Women’s Housing Needs in Regional Australia have been significant. We thank them for their time, expertise, and passion for improving housing opportunities for women across Australia.  

This change has been made following an independent review of our governance structure by consulting firm RSM Australia. Their recommendation to move to a common board of directors across all YWCA legal entities is designed to improve communication, clarify roles and responsibilities, and assist with reporting to regulators.  

While this may appear to be a significant governance change just two years after the merger of YWCA member associations, this is part of YWCA’s commitment to excellence, improvement and innovation in all areas of our business. While the right decisions were made at merger with the information that was available at the time, two years of operations has clarified how we can further streamline and improve our processes. 

We are confident that our new common board of directors across all YWCA entities will help YWCA continue to deliver essential programs and services to women, young women and girls across Australia for many years to come.  

Media Release: New research reveals homelessness crisis for regional women

Shocking new research has revealed one in eight women living in regional Australia has been homeless in the past five years and one in four has lived in temporary accommodation because they couldn’t afford the private rental market.

The Women’s Housing Needs in Regional Australia report is the first national study into women’s access to safe, affordable housing outside Australia’s capital cities and involved 1039 women living on low to moderate incomes in regional areas.

YWCA National Housing and Property Development Director Jan Berriman said the research highlighted the gross inadequacy of existing stock to meet demand.

“One in eight women reported being homeless in the past five years, and one in four hid their homelessness from others,” Ms Berriman said.

“One in five women personally knew at least one other woman who was currently homeless and two-thirds said homelessness was a growing problem in their communities. More than half of the women in the research worried they could become homeless.”

Women in regional New South Wales most frequently reported being homeless in the past five years (17 per cent), followed by women in regional Victoria (14 per cent) and regional Queensland (12 per cent). South Australia had the lowest number (8 per cent) and the national average was 12 per cent.

Women’s Housing Needs in Regional Australia Summary Research Report

“Women are sacrificing the daily essentials of life to pay their rent or mortgage,” Ms Berriman said. “The research found 30 per cent of women went without meals in the past year to afford their housing costs, and 44 per cent had refrained from heating or cooling their homes for the same reason.”

Ms Berriman said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were at greater risk than nonIndigenous women with nearly one in three (31 percent) experiencing homelessness in the past five years.

“The research found 43 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women had accessed emergency food relief in the past year, compared with 17 per cent of non-Indigenous women, and 15 per cent had lived in their car in the past five years compared with 4 per cent of nonIndigenous women,” she said.

Ms Berriman said the research revealed higher levels of homelessness than previous studies and statistics.

“One quarter of women who had been homeless, either in the past five years or currently, did not share their situation with any family member or friend, reflecting the likelihood of a much higher level of homelessness than previously understood,” Ms Berriman said.

She said numbers of women experiencing homelessness were expected to increase in the aftermath of bushfires, droughts and pandemics like COVID-19 because housing and jobs would be lost and rates of domestic and family violence were likely to increase.

“Domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women in Australia, and in regional areas the impacts are even more severe because social services and supports may be limited and strained to start with,” she said.

“We need to urgently double and diversify affordable housing options in regional Australia or face a tsunami of homeless women and children across the country.”

Ms Berriman said the solution required a large-scale response and collaboration amongst private, public and not-for-profit organisations.

“YWCA National Housing is pioneering novel housing solutions that involve partnerships with private operators and build-to-rent projects that provide eligible tenants with options to buy but this study demonstrates we need to do much more to meet demand,” she said.

“Government, philanthropic, corporate and community organisations need to partner to create and increase the supply of social and affordable housing options whilst funding housing support services across the country.”

This research was partially funded by the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science through the Building Better Regions Fund Community Investments Stream Round 3.

Find the full report here: www.ywcahousing.org.au/research

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